3 Easter Yr A

3 Easter Yr A, 6/04/2008

1 Peter 1:17-23

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Life in Christ”

 

Once there was a young lad leading his donkey in front of some soldiers. Several soldiers began to harass the boy. One soldier asked him, “Why are you holding onto your brother so tightly?” Without hesitation, the boy replied, “So he won’t join the army.”

The author of 1 Peter, was also writing to Christians living in Roman provinces of Asia Minor—modern day Turkey—who felt like this young lad, harassed and threatened by the pagan culture around them. The writer provides several word pictures of what Christ has done through his death and resurrection; who these Christians are now because of Christ’s saving work; and how they are now able to respond as they proceed to live a new life in Christ.

The first picture we are given of these new Christians in Asia Minor is that of exiles, aliens, or refugees. If you talk with exiles today, many of them share similar concerns or fears of the dominating culture into which they have come to live. As a minority group, it is difficult to maintain and preserve one’s identity—especially if the mainstream culture is hostile to you and pressures you to give up your own cultural or religious identity. These Christians lived in a culture that worshipped many gods and goddesses. The worship could involve wicked and immoral acts and beliefs in conflict with Christian acts and beliefs.

In one sense, we Christians are all exiles in this world—since our true, eternal home is in heaven. Therefore, there will always be certain temptations of the mainstream culture that threaten our status as Christians and may lead us away from Christ and our Christian faith. Exiles, if they face hardships and even persecution, long for the day when they can return to their true homeland where everything is familiar; where they can feel and live in peace and security. The same is true for us as Christians, we long for our true homeland where we can live in familiar surroundings; where we can feel and live in the peace and security of God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the author of 1 Peter instructs these Asia Minor Christians to live with the proper kind of fear—not the fear of the majority culture all around them. Rather, they are to live in reverent fear of God, as are we while they and we live in exile. What is reverent fear? Well, it is fear that expresses itself in awe. Awe and wonder at the power and love and presence of God in Christ. Awe for what God in Christ has done for us. Awe that trusts and believes God is in control of the world and has planned things out very carefully and lovingly even since before the foundation of the world. Awe that says, “No matter how difficult it is to live in this world, I am in God’s hands. He gives me life today and every day and provides what I need. He has also provided for me eternally—thanks to the saving work of Jesus Christ.”

A second word picture that the author of 1 Peter provides us is that of Christians who are captives, slaves in need of being rescued and freed from the sinful ways of the pagan world. The saving work of Christ here is pictured as a ransom—that is to say, he paid the costly price to rescue and free us from our sinful ways. This word picture is also meaningful in our contemporary world.

A few years ago, you may recall the story of Canadian hostage, Norbert Reinhart, owner of the Ontario-based business, Terramundo Drilling. He turned himself in to Colombian rebels in exchange, as a ransom for a kidnapped employee. The story began when the rebels kidnapped diamond-driller Edward Leonard.

Reinhart eventually made a deal with rebels to free Leonard. The deal involved Reinhart changing places with Leonard. At the time, Foreign Affairs Minister, Lloyd Axworthy did not approve of the deal. He told Reinhart and Reinhart’s family that negotiations should have been left to the Colombian government. However, once Reinhart turned himself in to the rebels, they released Leonard, who went back to his family in Creston, B.C.

Christ, says our second lesson, ransomed the Asia Minor Christians and us not with perishable things of this world, but with his precious blood, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He paid the price of his suffering, even dying on the cross, shedding his precious blood, which atoned for the sin of the world. Just as the Passover lamb’s blood on the doorposts of the Israelite slaves in Egypt saved their lives—so Christ’s blood atones for and saves our lives. Just as the Passover for the Jews is a festival celebrating their freedom from Egyptian slavery; so Christ’s death and shedding of blood and God’s raising him on the third day is our celebration of our freedom from the powers of sin, death and evil.

A third picture the author of 1 Peter provides concerning the work of Christ and the identity of Christians is having been born anew thanks to the immeasurable love of Christ displayed by his suffering, death and resurrection. Such profound, all encompassing love of God in Christ transforms us; gives us new birth through the living and enduring word of God. The Good News, the Gospel, proclaiming and receiving this word of God changes us. Having received this love of Jesus, we now are free to love one another.

Something of Christ’s love for us and our freedom to respond in love by passing it on to others is demonstrated in the following story. Richard Wauro was only a toddler when his parents were given the shattering news that their little boy had been born with serious brain damage and would be mentally defective for the rest of his days. His speech, sight and hearing would always be seriously impaired. Bravely, Olive and Ted Wauro decided that, whatever the difficulties, they were going to keep Richard at home and look after him themselves. It was a heartbreaking choice, and it meant endless work and personal sacrifice.

Then, when he was six, Richard began to draw. Not the scribbles of a demented child but the figures and scenes from life all around him. His talent, as it developed, astonished the experts and delighted the growing number of people who wanted to buy one of Richard’s pictures.

Richard is now an adult, and his paintings are exhibited all over the world. His remarkable story is told by Ron Thompson, a television reporter, in his book Never A Dull Moment.

As Ron Thompson wrote, “Somewhere in the darkness of Richard’s mind there shines a light which has brought Olive and Ted Wauro out of their despair and into the sunshine of a new life.”1

That is the power of love, when given away and generously spent on others, it is amazing how it can change people and give them new life—as Christ’s love has done for us. Amen.

 

1 Cited from Ron Thompson, Never A Dull Moment (Dundee, Scotland: David Winter & Son Ltd, 1974).

 

 

Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr A

Palm/Passion Sunday Yr A, 16/03/2008

Matt 26:36-46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Gethsemane”

 

It was night. Jesus had just celebrated the Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He had told them one of the twelve would betray him. He also had predicted Peter’s denial. Now they make their way to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. Here Jesus takes along Peter, James and John to keep vigil with him. He had been their source of comfort throughout his public ministry. Now, this night before his death, he seeks their comforting presence.

Matthew tells us at this point Jesus was: “grieved and agitated.” Telling the three inner circle disciples: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” Here we have a picture of Jesus’ humanity; he could be grief-stricken, agitated and full of sorrow. This grief and sorrow is something that Isaiah described centuries earlier, saying: “He was despised and rejected…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (RSV, Isa 53:3) Composer G.F. Handel, in his Messiah, sets these words from Isaiah to music, which is hauntingly, yet tragically beautiful.

What was the root of Christ’s sorrow, agitation and grief unto death? Most likely it was a combination of many things. He knew that he was about to leave his disciples behind, whom he loved dearly. He knew that after his time of agonizing prayer in Gethsemane that his disciple, Judas Iscariot would soon betray him and Peter would shortly deny him three times before the rooster’s crow. He knew that as the drama of his Passion heightened and he was nailed to the cross his disciples would split the scene and abandon him. He knew that the devil, the powers of evil were at work on this night to try and prevent him from doing what he needed to do. He knew that he would be treated like the lowliest and hated of criminals. He knew that he was about to be tried, sentenced and executed like a criminal on the trumped up charge of insurrection. He knew the crowds would condemn him, slander him, mock him. He knew that some of his own people along with several of their religious leaders would reject him. All of this and more was almost too much to bear. In light of this all now Jesus hopes his three inner circle disciples will stay awake with him for a brief duration of companionship and comfort.

After he tells them to stay awake, he walks a little farther to be alone; to pray to his heavenly Father. Matthew tells us that in his extremely troubled state Jesus: “threw himself on the ground and prayed.” His throwing himself on the ground again suggests Christ’s humanity. He comes to God the Father with humility; this position of prayer epitomises humility; the pain is so great; carrying the sins of the world; he falls down to the ground in prayer.

It was French theologian Jacques Ellul who once said: “Whoever wrestles with God in prayer puts his (or her) whole life at stake.” Is that not precisely what Jesus did at Gethsemane, put his whole life at stake?

In his humanity, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” Here the deep inner anguish; the unbearable agony of having to do what he dreaded and feared most—dying on a cross for the sins of the world is the cup of suffering Jesus in his humanness; in his love of life asks God the Father to be spared of. However, each sin had to be atoned for; every human being, all of humankind from beginning to end had to be forgiven—thus his suffering was beyond our comprehension.

While this incomprehensible battle was raging within Jesus, the three disciples were overcome with stress and so chose to fall asleep and look after their physical need above their spiritual need to stay awake with Christ and suffer with him. Some comfort they were! Yet there is much truth in Jesus alone at prayer, struggling to accept God the Father’s will, not his will. We too face at times our Gethsemane. Sinners that we are, we struggle with doing God’s will rather than our own will—especially if God wills us to face suffering and a cross. We too, like Jesus, may think that we are carrying the world on our shoulders. We too, like Jesus may feel abandoned by our closest friends or family members. However, the example of Jesus is ours to follow—turning to God in prayer and asking him for help to do his will.

After his exhortation to the disciples to stay awake and pray not to fall into the time of trial; Jesus went to pray alone a second time. This time Jesus’ prayer is more resolved to accept his destiny: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it: “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

Once again Jesus went back to Peter, James and John only to find them fast asleep. This time he does not awaken them. Instead, he goes back a third time to pray the same prayer.

Prayer for Jesus at Gethsemane was extremely important. Prayer allowed Jesus to commune with his Abba his Loving Parent, just as a young child trusts her or his parent for everything. Prayer made it possible for Christ to pour out and hand over all of his fears, agony, agitation, sorrow and grief to God the Father. Prayer provided Christ with the single-mindedness of purpose to carry out the Father’s will. Prayer gave him the strength and courage to willingly accept the loneliness and God-forsakenness ahead of him. Prayer helped him face the events of the Passion—to endure and overcome them.

What about us? Do we believe that God is with us and is our only, our highest and best Source of help, comfort, guidance and strength when we face our Gethsemane? If Jesus turned to his heavenly Father three times in prayer in order to help him face his suffering and crucifixion—then how much more we imperfect sinners do we need to turn to God in prayer? This short verse of a an anonymous poem illustrates the point very well: “I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day,/I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray./Problems tumbled about me, and heavier became each task./ “Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered, and He answered: “You didn’t ask.”

Gethsemane teaches us that when we feel utterly alone; when we suffer betrayal or denial; when we are falsely or unjustly judged or punished; when we face obstacles and sufferings that seem unbearable; when we face our Gethsemane—then God promises to be with us as we commune with him in prayer; then, when we pray “thy will be done” he will supply the grace and everything we need to face life and accomplish his will. Jesus teaches us that all things are possible through prayer. Our heavenly Father provides everything we need and is always available and waiting for us to ask that his will be done. Amen.

 

Sermon 3 Lent Yr A

3 Lent Yr A, 24/02/2008

Jn 4:5-42

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman”

 

PRAYER: O God, the well-spring of life, pour into our hearts the living water of your grace, that refreshed by you, we may live this day in steadfast reliance on the strength you give; through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.* Wow! What a story in today’s gospel! It is one of the longest conversations with an individual in all of the gospels. It’s a wonderful, surprising, remarkable story because Jesus says and does some exceptional things, which go far above and beyond predictable, Jewish customs, traditions, beliefs and practices. Jesus in this story reveals the uniqueness of his identity as Messiah and Saviour of the world. I invite you to join me now as we take a closer look at some of the rich insights of this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

   First of all, John tells us that Jesus, unlike so many devout Jews of his day, did not avoid travelling in Samaria. You see at this time in history, Jews and Samaritans were enemies. The Jews looked down on Samaritans as half-breeds, not purely Jewish. They also looked down on them because the Samaritans only regarded the first five books of the Bible as authoritative scripture and they thought that the true place of worship was on Mount Gerizim, where they once had built a temple, but it had been destroyed in 128 B.C.

   It is noon, burning hot, Jesus, in his humanness, is tired out and thirsty. He stops at Jacob’s well, at the Samaritan city of Sychar—most likely the same place that centuries before was called Shechem, north of Jerusalem, which had been part of the old northern Israelite kingdom. In the heat of the day, a Samaritan woman, we don’t even know her name, came to draw water. Jesus, then does something totally out of bounds for any other Jewish leader of his day—he speaks to this woman, this Samaritan woman in a public place, saying: “Give me a drink.” Any male, Jewish, religious leader wanting respect would never speak to a woman, including their wife, let alone a Samaritan woman in a public place. This was a shocking, radical, unexpected thing to do. The Samaritan woman, realizing this, answers Jesus, expressing her surprise: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And John adds for readers unfamiliar with the customs of that day this detail: “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”

   Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour of the world demonstrates here that he refuses to accept the traditions and customs of the Jews that placed a barrier between Jew and Samaritan and male and female. He came to remove such walls and divisions of the past as the true Messiah and Saviour of the whole world.

   Jesus then continues the conversation, now offering the Samaritan woman “living water,” which, at first, she thinks Jesus is still speaking about the water in Jacob’s well and wonders how he can get the water out of such a deep well without a bucket. Jesus however, speaking on a spiritual level promises that those who drink of the living water will never be thirsty again: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Centuries before, Jeremiah referred to God himself as “the fountain of living water,” (Jer 2:13; 17:13). And in the book of Proverbs 13:14, we learn of this promise: “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death.” Water, of course, is also the symbol in this Gospel for the sacrament of baptism. Here, however, according to Professor Walter Brueggemann: It is clear that the gospel narrative has taken the concrete-material reality of water and transposed it into a metaphor. Water is now gospel; water is the good news. Water is sign and symbol that in Jesus we are given a new quality of life, as the text says, “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” This is extraordinary good news that in the life of this defeated woman, durable quenching is possible. It was outrageous good news that from the hard rock of a failed life durable quenching happens, good news for ancient Israel in the wilderness, good news for the woman thirsting for a better life, good news for us in a culture of paralyzing anxiety.1 Jesus as living water gives us eternal life, abundant life, which starts right now, and flows on without end.

After Jesus offers the Samaritan woman this living water, she asks Jesus for it, and Jesus responds by sending her on the task of fetching her husband and bringing him back. She tells Jesus that she has no husband. He is very pastoral in his next comment to the woman, affirming her for telling him the truth, yet, at the same time, confronting her with the truth of her past marital history and her present status. Notice here that Jesus is not condemning her for having five previous husbands and not being married to the present man she is living with. Rather, he merely states the truth of her past history and present situation. This is very instructive for us too. We should not draw the conclusion based on an argument out of silence that the woman was sexually immoral given her past history. Indeed, as some feminist scholars have observed, we have no detailed information on the sexual history of the woman or her previous husbands, therefore we should not jump to the wrong conclusion that the woman was sexually immoral. Jesus does not make such a comment or judgement, therefore neither should we. Rather, Jesus states the truth in a way that invites the woman to respond.

Notice then that the woman does not walk away because she feels condemned. Nor does she feel that she needs to respond in a defensive way. Rather, she remains in conversation with Jesus, likely surprised at what he had just told her, and realising that this was no ordinary person, admitting that he was a prophet, and then raising a theological issue concerning the appropriate place to worship God—is it Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem? Those in our society or community who feel like outcasts; who feel that they are the subjects of malicious gossip; who are ostracized and condemned by others; these ones need Jesus and his love as much as the rest of us. The way Jesus handles this situation with the Samaritan woman is a perfect example of how we can offer pastoral care to the outcasts of our day. We, like Jesus, can speak the truth without condemning others, and then invite those who hear the truth to respond to it, like the woman of Samaria.

Jesus then takes the Samaritan woman’s statement seriously and explains what true worship really means. I like the way professor and pastor, Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Believe me woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

In other words: Cities, states/provinces, nations, and denominations are not holy. God is holy. God’s people are holy. No more artificial divisions—Jews/Samaritans, Protestant/Catholic, Presbyterian/Lutheran—no more divisions to separate human beings one from another—good news—gospel.2

In response, to Jesus’ truth concerning true worship, and the truth of his own being, the woman now continues the conversation by saying the whole truth shall be proclaimed when the Messiah comes. Jesus then gives her the greatest surprise of her life: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

The woman, there and then is never the same again. Joyfully surprised and shocked at this revelation from a conversation about the truth to meeting The Truth Himself; she leaves her water jar behind—perhaps a symbol of her old way of life before meeting up with Jesus, and goes back to the city and preaches the Good News. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” That truth-telling, which came from Jesus The Truth; that Gospel preaching went right into the hearts, minds and lives of many Samaritans who heard the woman preacher. God’s Spirit was at work in their spirits to draw them into a living encounter with Jesus The Truth. They too, with that Samaritan woman came to “know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

To this day, that nameless Samaritan woman, the first unexpected evangelist, is revered in many cultures. In southern Mexico, La Samaritana is remembered on the fourth Friday in Lent, when specially flavoured water is given to commemorate her gift of water to Jesus. The Orthodox know her as Saint Photini, or Svetlana in Russian. Her name means “equal to the apostles,” and she is honoured as apostle and martyr on the Feast of the Samaritan Woman.3

You never know how Jesus will surprise and reveal his truth to you. In the Lenten wilderness of temptations aplenty and countless sins, which nailed Jesus to the cross; there is good news; life transforming news. Jesus the living water; Jesus The Way, The Truth, and The Life, comes to us through word, water, bread and wine to satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst; to give us free, abundant life, full of Spirit. We, like that Samaritan woman are never the same again as we worship and serve God in spirit and in truth. Like her, we are invited to respond by spreading the Good News of Jesus to everyone. Amen.

* Prayer cited from: A New Zealand Prayer Book (Hastings, New Zealand: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. & HarperSan Fransisco, 1989 & 1997), p. 92.

1 Walter Brueggemann & Anna Carter Florence, Editor, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), p. 141.

2 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), p. 64.

3 David E. Leininger, ibid, p. 64.

 

Sermon 1 Lent Yr A

1 Lent Yr A, 10/02/2008

Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7 & Rom 5:12-19

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Sin and Death, Christ and New Life”

 

Today one of the taboo words is sin, and along with it, death. We live far too much of our lives in denial of both sin and death. In fact, many bow down and worship at the altar of sin. As for death, we like to sanitize it by employing phrases such as “passed away,” and we attempt to confine and control death by the use of science and technology—going to all kinds of heroic measures, which are nothing more than out and out denial of and rebellion against death, attempting to be gods and goddesses in our True God’s place.

   The story is told of a fence between Heaven and Hell, which was falling apart. It was badly in need of repair. Saint Peter consulted his records and saw that by the terms of an ancient agreement, it was Satan’s turn to fix the fence. So he gritted his teeth and sought an audience with the Prince of Darkness.

   He found him in the nether regions, cleaning his pitchfork. Peter did not sit down. The smell of brimstone was heavy in the hot air. “You need to fix the fence,” he said.

   The devil twitched his red tail. He scratched behind a horn. “Now Pete,” he said, “you could be a little more friendly, after all these years.”

   “I don’t want to be here at all,” Peter said. “I just came to tell you the fence needs fixing.”

   “My people are too busy to spend time on your lousy fence. Fix it yourself.”

   “See here, you devil; it’s your turn to fix the fence. It’s the right thing to do. And if you don’t fix the fence, I’ll sue.”

   The devil laughed his wickedest laugh. “Go ahead and sue! Where are you going to find a lawyer?”1

   This joke is rather negative towards lawyers, with its demonizing them. However, theologically I think the joke complements both our first lesson from Genesis and second lesson from Romans today. Both of these passages underscore that there is a power existing in the world that is resisting God and God’s will. A power in rebellion against God.

   In the Genesis passage, the power is described as the serpent. In the text, the serpent is not however called Satan or the devil, even though the serpent’s behaviour, by questioning God’s words to the woman and by telling the woman an out and out lie implies that it is a power resisting God and God’s will, and in rebellion against God.

   Something that is difficult for us in the story of the Fall is that God actually must have created the serpent in the first place, since he created all creatures. Why would God create such a serpent, which is described in 3:1 as “more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God made”? A second troublesome question is: Why would God wish to create the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil? According to one Jewish tradition, creation was flawed from the beginning and God, by creating the serpent and the forbidden tree, deliberately set up or framed the original human beings so that they would be tempted and choose to eat of the forbidden fruit. However, for Jews, the man and woman eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is interpreted not necessarily as the Fall or the wrong choice. Rather, it is viewed as a necessary choice for human beings in order for them to become full, mature, adult human beings who exercise their independence and therefore must learn to properly accept and be responsible for the consequences of their decisions.

   Christians, on the other hand, have interpreted this story of the Fall differently. We have viewed the choice to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil as a wrong choice, a choice that was made in rebellion against God and God’s will. According to one biblical scholar, Elizabeth Achtemeier: “knowledge” in Hebrew includes also the ability to do. And the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is, therefore, a symbol of omniscience and omnipotence, of the ability to do and know everything, including right and wrong. In short, the tree symbolizes the ability to be gods. But we are not gods, of course. Human beings are creatures who are totally dependent on our Creator for all good gifts and for life itself.2 Therefore, the restriction placed on the original man and woman in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; served at least two purposes. First of all, it was God’s way of reminding the first man and woman of their limitations. Human beings are God’s creatures, therefore finite, and having to live within certain limitations. This limitation here was to protect humans from sin and death. Second, by giving the first man and woman the responsibility and the freedom to choose not to eat of the forbidden tree; God was actually treating them with respect as mature, adult human beings and giving them the opportunity to face the consequences of their choice. God was holding them responsible for their choice and their freedom to choose. That is not at all a negative thing; it is the reality of life in this world as mature, adult human beings.

However, the first man and woman, by choosing to give in to the temptation of the serpent and believe the serpent’s lie; by eating the forbidden fruit; sin entered into the world and with it, the consequence, death. Ever since that choice, every human being has inherited sin and its consequence, death. Paul, in our second lesson, makes that quite clear. He pictures sin and death like a contagious disease, which spreads to everyone by virtue of being born a human being. Sin and death are what we have inherited from the first man and woman. That means we all too often abuse our freedom and responsibility and make the wrong kind of choices—choices that result in sin and death.

Here’s one example. In Japan there is a type of blowfish that is a great delicacy. However, there is a problem—it is poisonous. It is understood to be such a delicacy that people are willing to pay a high price per pound for the fish. Chefs preparing it are required to study something like two years before being allowed to serve it to customers.

Those who eat it feel a tingling in their tongue, toes and fingers. However if eaten in small quantities it is not fatal. Nevertheless, about sixteen people a year die from eating the fish since there is no known antidote for the poison, which is permeated throughout the meat.

Ever since the Fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, human beings can no longer choose not to sin and not to die. That freedom and privilege has been lost. That is why we need a Saviour. If sin and death are like a contagious disease that spreads to us all; then God in the Person of Jesus is like the Remedy to heal us from the disease. In the ancient Church, by receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christians were receiving what they referred to as the Medicine of Immortality. Sin and death do not have the last word.

This becomes quite clear in Paul’s very tightly reasoned presentation of the situation. Thinking of and referring to the story of the Fall in Genesis, Paul tells us we’re all sinners through our first parents. He tells us we all suffer the consequence of that sin, which is death. However, Paul writes with great certainty and confidence regarding our new state of being as baptized Christians, telling us that in Christ we are given a wonderful inheritance—”the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.” A phrase that stands out in this passage is the superlative “much more surely,” and the word “abundance.” In other words, Paul is saying that sin and death are powerful, but they cannot equal God’s power in Christ; they cannot defeat or overcome Christ and his life-giving power. Christ is a superpower, so great and mighty that he and his power far exceed the powers of sin and death.

A man had felt himself to be badly wronged. It was not true, but he refused to look at facts and stubbornly held to a spirit of gross malice. The longer he held the grudge the more it festered, poisoning his thinking. At last he decided to get even. He concocted a plan to bomb the place of business where his imagined adversary worked. It was a large manufacturing plant, rising six stories and covering an entire city block. Eight hundred employees spent each weekday at work in this building. The fact that 800 people could possibly be destroyed by his bomb did not affect the man with the grievance. As long as his “offender” was killed he did not care how many others were killed or maimed. So 800 people were killed or maimed in a horrible explosion.

Or were they? A police officer somehow learned that the man was making a large bomb. So he carefully planned a search of the man’s premises, found the bomb, and turned it over to a demolition squad. Many could have perished through one man’s sinfulness. But all were saved by another man’s efforts to prevent the mass tragedy.3

Christ, says Paul, not only saves us from sin and death he gives us life, superabundant life, which flows from the present, right now into the future, eternally. This Lenten season, may we be ever mindful and appreciative of the Costly Grace we are freely given thanks to the saving work of Jesus on the cross, which has overcome sin and death—reversing the Fall by making us the new creation in Christ. Amen.

 

1 Bill Mosley, “Family Tree,” Sermons on the First Readings: Series I, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2004), p. 125.

2 Elizabeth Achtemeier, “The Story of Us All: A Christian Exposition of Genesis 3,” in Fredrick C. Holmgren and Herman E. Schaalman, Editors, Preaching Biblical Texts: Expositions by Jewish and Christian Scholars (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 2.

3 Emphasis, Vol. 25, No. 5, January-February 1996 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 57.  

 

Sermon 2 Epiphany Yr A

2 Epiphany Yr A, 20/01/2008

Jn 1:29-42

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Keeping secrets or spreading the word?”

 

Our nephews, Marc and Darrin came to visit us several years ago, when they were quite young, between five to seven years old. One of the first things they spotted in our house was a painting of the crucifixion, which was painted by an artist friend of ours. They were quite intrigued, never having seen such a picture before. They asked a lot of questions, such as: What was that red stuff on his hands? And why was he there anyway?

After our conversation with them, Marc and Darrin tried to draw their own picture of Jesus on the cross.

Then, after they had visited us for a while, they went to visit another family. Later, they stopped in again to visit us on their way back home. This time, they had a cousin along. One of the first things they did when they came into our house was to take their cousin to see the picture and to try and tell him what it was all about. That was good evangelism; that was witnessing at its finest; that was fulfilling the calling the Lord gives us all to be his missionaries and evangelists.

What about us? Are we better at keeping secrets than spreading the word? In today’s gospel, John the baptizer can’t help himself. He sees Jesus walking by and has to tell everyone within earshot, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And the next day, he’s at it again, bearing faithful testimony to anyone who would listen, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The words of John bearing witness to the truth of Jesus’ identity were in fact heard by at least two people, who happened to be John’s disciples—one of them is not named, the other is Andrew. Andrew is, in fact, one of my favourite disciples. Why? Because he’s seldom in the limelight, quite content to let Peter or Paul or James or John take on that role. Yet, he is a genuine witness, a faithful evangelist, a willing missionary—spreading the good word about Jesus and bringing others to Jesus—not by the hundreds or thousands mind you, but one by one, so it seems. We can, I think, be encouraged by disciples like Andrew. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by the task of evangelism and mission work. We don’t have to set unrealistic goals and think that we need to bring in hundreds of thousands of people to Christ. Rather, like Andrew, we can invite a family member, a close friend or a neighbour to “come and see.” We do not need to keep secrets; we can spread the word, even if it is in the form of the simplest of invitations. God, through the Holy Spirit can work in you and through your words of invitation and reach people in surprising ways.

Ken Taylor tells the following story: A friend of mine serves as a missionary in a restricted access country. For many years the government of this country has taught the people that there is no God. My friend had the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with a nonbeliever of that country who is a highly educated professional.

After developing a friendship with the professional, my friend had the opportunity to share the gospel story with him. My friend was taken aback by the man’s response: “What you have told me cannot be true. If it were true, it is such good news that someone would have told this to me before.”1

Sad, but too many Christians prefer to keep secrets rather than spread the word. Prophets like John the Baptizer and disciples like Andrew, thank the Lord, were not good at keeping secrets—they enthusiastically spread the word. John and Andrew were sharing the truth about Jesus that had been revealed to them through a direct encounter with him. They were re-telling the story. This is instructive for us today too, since we are called to do the same: share the truth about Jesus that has been revealed to us through a direct encounter with him. Whether that has been some dramatic high, mountaintop revelation; or whether it has been a still small voice; or whether it has been some other way; Jesus has given you that revelation about himself for you to share with others—just like John and Andrew. Are you keeping this a secret or are you spreading the word?

I admit that because of the bad name and reputation that Christian evangelism and missionary work has been given; because of some of the manipulative tactics that have been employed in the past, and perhaps even today; many of us may be sorely tempted NOT to be evangelists or missionaries.

Evangelism is the “E” word; there is something mildly disreputable about it. We feel uncomfortable about the images it conjures up: accosting people on the street and stuffing a tract in their hands; threatening people with the fires of eternal hell like (some are inclined to do) unless they make a commitment; revival preachers interminably imploring “just one more” to raise that hand and make a decision for Christ; folks with bad hair on cable television begging folks to send more money to keep this soul-winning ministry on the air. That is not us. That is not our way of reaching people.

Do you know whose way I like? The fellow we meet in chapter 1 of John’s gospel, Andrew, the apostle with the missionary heart. Apparently, he had always been a religious man—up until now he had been a disciple of John….But one day Andrew met Jesus and Andrew was never the same again. Three times we find him on center stage in the gospel record: John 1, when he introduced his brother Simon to Christ; in John 6, when he introduced the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus; and in John 12, as he introduced some devout Greeks to the Saviour. Andrew was always introducing people to the Lord. We do not know very much about Andrew other than that, but what we do know is wonderfully attractive…and at the same time, a wonderful model for Christians who desperately need some help in doing “the ‘E’ word.”2

The world needs the Lamb of God who takes away its sin as much today as it ever did; the world needs Jesus the Messiah as much right now as it did back in the days of John and Andrew. We have been given, by the sheer grace and love of God, this wonderful GOOD NEWS. The question for us remains: Do we keep this a secret or do we spread the word? I hope and pray it is the latter—since our lives depend on this; as do the lives of everyone—for God so loved THE WORLD! Like John and Andrew may we be eager and willing to share this GOOD NEWS STORY, and invite others to “come and see.” Amen.

 

1 Citation from: Perfect Illustrations For Every Topic And Occasion, Compiled by the editors of PreachingToday.com (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), p. 111.

2 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), p. 36.

 

Sermon 1 Christmas Yr A

1 Christmas Yr A, 30/12/2007

Matt 2:13-23

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Celebrate the Christ-Child and Remember the Children”

 

Many people have this far too romantic and idealistic notion that Christmas has to be perfect. Such people have the tendency to dwell on the sentimental aspects of Christmas as an escape from the harsh, cold realities of life in this world. The truth of the matter is that the powers of evil were actively at work when Christ was born and they are still actively at work today. Yes, even at Christmas time, there are countless, untold stories of child abuse, torture and even murder—most of these stories don’t make it into the news. Today, our gospel would have us focus on the stories of such children, just as we focus on the Christ-Child. So, let me indulge you a little today, as we remember the far too many children around the globe who have suffered and continue to suffer from the powers of evil.

Gnanaguru Aravinthan, a Sri Lankan Tamil, was just 13 years old when his father last saw him in September 1985. He had been sent home by his father to change his clothes. He was then supposed to meet his father at a friend’s house. Gnanguru never arrived. Neighbours told the father they had seen his son in the custody of soldiers from a nearby army camp. However, when he went to the camp he was told the boy had not been arrested.

Nahaman Carmon, 13, was a street child in Guatemala City. Early on the morning of March 4, 1990, he was sniffing glue, as a means of quelling hunger, with a group of other street children. They were then surrounded by the police, who poured glue over their heads and reportedly kicked Nahaman viciously. He was later treated in the intensive care unit at the hospital and operated on for a ruptured liver. He died on March 14 without regaining consciousness.

Three-year-old Clesio Pereira de Souza of Brazil was riding on his father’s shoulders when he was shot in the back by gunmen, who then shot his father in the head at point-blank range. The killings were carried out by gunmen believed to have been hired by men claiming the land cultivated by the local peasant community. When his mother tried to report the case, the police chief alleged he could not record it as he had no pen or paper.1

Far too many parents are wailing and lamenting today for their children and they refuse to be consoled because they’ve lost their children to forced child labour projects where the children are treated like slaves; they’ve lost their children to terrorist militias who force young children to kill their own people or themselves be killed if they refuse; they’ve lost their children to the makers of pornography and child prostitution and sometimes the pimps kidnap and market these children to another country so that the parents never see them again. Such are the harsh, cold realities of the world today. In this sense, nothing much has changed under the sun. Far too often it seems that the powers of evil are winning.

If they had lived in another place, they would have been safe. But they lived in El Salvador in the 1980s. They lived in one of the outlying villages, and the guerrilla war raged in the communities around them and often in their own.

If they had lived in another place, they would have been safe. But they were not safe, not even in their own homes. They were Christians, and their mom and dad had a picture of Pope John Paul II on one wall and a crucifix on another. These pictures made their home suspect.

If they had lived in another place, they would have been safe. In Mexico, their lives would not have been in danger. In Spain or France, they would have been safe. But in El Salvador in the 1980s, mothers, fathers, teens, children, even babies were murdered. All Christians were suspected of being subversives, and the killing of innocent children was a powerful signal to other Christians in the area that their lives were also in danger. The death of the innocent ones was used as a threat against their elders.

Martyrs. Innocent, young martyrs. All because Jesus was in their midst.2

In today’s gospel, we learn that the celebration of Christmas in not so pretty, romantic or idealistic. Rather, we learn through this divine drama in three acts that life in this world can be very dangerous. Life in this world can be cruel. Life in this world can be subject to evil plots, schemes and acts orchestrated by power hungry people who themselves are possessed by evil and rely on evil to protect their power and status.

In the first act of this divine drama, God speaks to Joseph in a dream through an angel, a messenger of God, commanding him to: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” WOW! What a message! No romantic or idealistic picture of Christmas here! Rather, we have the harsh, cold reality of a tyrant ruler, Herod, who is determined to shed innocent blood. He’s doing everything possible to kill the Christ-Child. According to Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod was an extremely cruel man, who seems to of had no problems ruling by evil means. …Herod ordered the execution of three of his sons (even Caesar in Rome is reported to have said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son); and at his burial, one member of every family was to be slain so that the nation might really mourn.3 However, Herod did not manage to kill Jesus. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt and lived there as refugees until after it was safe to return back to the Promised Land, after Herod had died, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

I wonder what life was like for Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Egypt. After all, there was the history, along with its memories of Israel in Egyptian slavery. It may have been risky to go back to Egypt. Would they as refugees be safe there? Or would they be giving up one oppressive ruler for another oppressive ruler? Could Joseph really trust God’s messenger and the message? What would life be like in Egypt? Could they adjust to life as refugees in a land where their ancestors were slaves? Were they destined to be slaves like their ancestors? Such may have been Joseph’s thoughts as he set out for Egypt. If only there were more dreams like Joseph’s. If only there were more messengers of God instructing poor, vulnerable people in the world today. If only there were more refugees finding safe places to flee to and live for a time. If only there were more innocent lives saved—especially the lives of children.

As the second act of our divine drama unfolds, we are told that Herod was infuriated when he learned that he had been tricked by the wise men. So “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” According to Matthew, this fulfilled the nightmare, tragic prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15, which warned: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” There are far too many Rachels in our world today. There are far too many mothers of children who were innocent and have been brutally abused, tortured and killed. As some of you may know, to lose a child is one of the most difficult losses, the most tragic of deaths that we can face. How much more difficult it must be if one loses a child by evil means. How might we as followers of Jesus have compassion on the Rachels of today? Might we share the love of Christ with them by walking with them in their wailing and lamentation? Perhaps we can be God’s messengers for such parents.

In the third act of the gospel’s divine drama today, once again Joseph has two more dreams and God’s messenger speaks to him, instructing him first of all that the tyrant Herod has died and now it’s safe to return back to Israel. And, in the second dream, Joseph was warned not to settle in Judea, where Herod’s son Archelaus now ruled, and was almost as cruel as Herod. Rather, Joseph was instructed to go to Nazareth in the district of Galilee and live with Mary and Jesus there.

This third act of the divine drama reminds us that the Herods of this world do not prevail. Sooner or later they lose their power. Sooner or later they die. Today, as we remember the Christ-Child and the danger he was in, and his flight into Egypt as a refugee; we also pause and remember today all of the children in this world who have been or who are right now being abused, tortured, murdered or living somewhere as refugees. We remember too the parents of these children. One day, these children and their parents shall be first in the kingdom of heaven. One day they shall be healed and restored completely from their sufferings and their grief. One day when the Christ-Child shall become King of kings and Lord of lords, all tyrants; all the Herods of this world shall be no more. One day King Jesus shall destroy all evil powers completely and rule eternally in perfect peace and love. And that’s worth celebrating during this season of Christmas and every season! Amen.

 

1 Cited from a letter I received written by Paul Bentley, former President, Amnesty International, Canada Section, English Speaking, 1990.

2 Emphasis, Vol. 5, No. 4, November-December 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 67.

3 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities Of The Jews, Book XVII, written between 66-74 AD. This citation is from: David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), p. 25.

 

Sermon Christmas Eve Yr A

Christmas Eve Yr A, 24/12/2007

Lk 2:1-20

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Join the Song”

 

One of the most interesting trademarks of the Gospel of Luke is the songs it contains. Luke provides us with several songs describing the extra special nature of Jesus Christ. In Luke’s Gospel, there is much joy and celebration of Christ’s birth and his unique and holy role as God’s Son, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. In fact, the joy of these songs is rather contagious. That, I believe was intentional—Luke wants all of his readers, including us, to join in the Song, the Song of celebration and joy. Tonight’s gospel is certainly full-to-overflowing with joy. It is a contagious joy, and I hope and pray that each and every one of you catches that joy! Listen again to the words of these verses, in the contemporary language of The Message, by pastor and professor Eugene Peterson: “At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.” The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!”1

Singing God’s praises, and letting loose, glorifying and praising God—that’s what tonight is all about! That’s what the true message of Christmas is all about! Jesus the Saviour of the world; Jesus your Saviour and mine; Jesus the Messiah was born, lived, taught, healed, suffered and died and was raised again—why? So that you and I and all people may be saved, loved, healed, forgiven, and offered the gift of eternal life. How can we help but join the song, the endless song of every age, every nation—singing God’s praises and letting loose glorifying and praising God!

Music, next to the Word of God, is a precious gift from God. So tonight it is most appropriate that we join the song, and celebrate our joy as we remember Jesus our Saviour’s birth. Some of you may not be familiar with the story of how we got one of our best loved Christmas carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Tonight I think it is appropriate that we tell that story.

Philip Brooks was a big man, six feet six inches tall, with a big heart and a brilliant mind. He was fascinated by the message of Christmas, had an immense love for children, and wrote many carols for them. One of them was the famous carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The carol was written while he was rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Brooks had visited the Holy Land a few years previously. On Christmas Eve he stood on the hills where many centuries before, the shepherds heard an angel announce the good news of a great joy. Christ the Lord had been born!

Below, the town of Bethlehem lay asleep in the darkness as it had been on that night when the shepherds hurried to see this sight for themselves. Later, Brooks attended midnight worship at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was deeply moved by this whole experience, and could not forget what he saw and heard on that marvellous night.

Some time after his return, Brooks was asked to write a Christmas hymn for a Sunday school celebration at Holy Trinity Church. He penned the thoughts that had been incubating in his mind into the beautiful carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

The author asked Lewis H. Redner, the organist and Sunday school superintendent of the parish, to compose the music. Redner waited for inspiration, but this had not come even by Christmas Eve. During the night Redner dreamed he heard angels singing, and he woke up with a melody ringing in his ears. He quickly jotted it down and next morning he filled in the harmony. Redner insisted the tune was a contribution from heaven. Both authors have given the world a great gift.

In the carol, Dr. Brooks shares the message of Christmas from St Luke’s Gospel. But he closes with the beautiful invitation for us to open our hearts to Christ, invite Him in, and live in the fellowship with Him: O holy Child of Bethlehem,/Descend to us, we pray:/Cast out our sin, and enter in,/Be born in us today./We hear the Christmas angels/The great glad tidings tell;/Oh, come to us, abide with us,/Our Lord Immanuel!

Philip Brooks later ministered at Trinity Church, Boston, again with much success as a preacher and spiritual leader. He was deeply loved by young and old. Brooks preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, at a time when Unitarianism was sweeping the continent. His preaching made a positive impact on society. Brooks became Bishop of Massachusetts for two years.

After his death Trinity Church in Boston had a statue built. Christ is standing behind Brooks holding up a cross; He has his hand on the pastor’s shoulder.

When Bishop Brooks died in 1893, it is said that a five year old girl remarked to her mother that now the angels would be very happy to have him in their midst.2

There is nothing like music to cheer and comfort us. Tonight may the music of Christmas fill your whole being as we worship the birth of God with us-Immanuel; Jesus-Saviour of the world.

Tonight, on this holy night, we too are invited to join the song. Like the heavenly angel choir who spread the Good News of Christ’s birth to the humble shepherds with their song of praise; like the shepherds who let loose and sang their song of glory and praise to God after hearing the Good News and then going to see the Saviour at Bethlehem and from there they went out and told everyone that they met the Good News of the Christ the Saviour’s birth; so we too are encouraged to share that Good News of Jesus our Saviour’s birth. My hope and prayer for each of you this holy night is that you too, like the angels and the shepherds; like Mary and Joseph; shall be caught up with the wonder and awe of Christ’s birth; that you would be filled with so much joy that you cannot contain it; that it has to come out as you join the song of glorifying and praising God for Christ’s birth, the Greatest Gift of Christmas; and that you, like the angels and shepherds would leave this place ready and willing to share that joy, that Good News Message with family, friends, neighbours—indeed, with everyone you meet. Amen.

1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993), p. 106.

2 Harold Gniewotta, A Christmas Resource Book: Let us go now to Bethlehem (Edmonton, AB: published by the author, Harold Gniewotta, & printed by Dial Printing Inc., 2005), pp. 70-72.

1 Advent Yr A

1 Advent Yr A, 2/12/2007

Isa 2:1-5

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Living in Hope”

 

You may remember the story of the long and rough Atlantic crossing where the seasick passenger was leaning over the rail of the ocean liner and had turned several shades of green. A steward came along and tried to cheer him up by saying, “Don’t be discouraged, sir! You know, no one’s ever died of seasickness yet!” The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with baleful eyes and replied: “Oh, don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!”1

I hope that it’s NOT only the hope of dying that’s kept us alive this long! Although we need not fear death, and are given hope after death—nonetheless, today in our first passage from Isaiah we are given the opportunity to live in hope. Today we begin another new Church Year with this first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is the Sunday of hope.

I don’t know if you noticed it, but in the opening verse of our first lesson, it is the faculty of seeing more so than of hearing or speaking that is emphasised. Isaiah the Jerusalem prophet and preacher is given a beautiful vision of hope: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz SAW concerning Judah and Jerusalem. As the old adage has it, a picture contains at least one thousand words. What a wonderful picture-vision of future hope Isaiah describes here today! Mount Zion—another name for Jerusalem and the temple there—shall be the highest of all mountains. Here the prophet is likely meaning higher not in the literal sense of feet or kilometres; rather, in the sense of the most important place on earth spiritually, insofar as it is the place where humankinds’ highest dreams and hopes shall come into fruition. It shall be God’s capital city of all nations. Peoples from all directions shall flock to it for God’s instruction, God’s Torah, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “He’ll—i.e. God will—show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” I like that, we shall be able to live the way God has truly made us to live. That is to say, it will be a living in hope because God shall exercise his perfect power to judge and arbitrate the nations which shall produce the result of transforming completely the way the world exits. The consequences of God’s judgement and arbitration shall be the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Weapons of war and death shall become agricultural implements of peace and life—people shall no longer learn war any more. The endless resources presently being put into war shall end. Then there shall be enough resources to live in peace and prosperity for all nations. No more divisions of the world and its peoples into rich nations and poor nations. There shall be enough of everything for people to live healthy, meaningful, contented lives.

WOW! What a vision of hope that is! A vision of living hope for hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people down through the ages, right up until today. Is it for real, or is it too good to be true? Will the day ever come when God can actually right all wrongs and solve all of the world’s most difficult problems? Commenting on this passage, one scholar, Rev. Victor Zinkuratire, writes: Faced with so many problems that have no obvious solutions, Africans need to hear this message as an antidote to fatalism and as a prod to action.

Reading this poem in the context of contemporary Africa, with its seemingly insurmountable problems, one may be tempted to shun the challenge by trying to convince oneself that the opening phrase “In days to come” refers to the world beyond time rather than our present one. Certainly the Hebrew phrase can refer to the end time…but it can also refer to events within time…. It is in this latter sense that we in Africa should understand the phrase if we want this word of God to be a source of hope for us in our present hopelessness.2

I would suggest that it is not only the continent of Africa and its peoples that face such seemingly unresolved problems; rather, it is all nations and every people from every land who would do well to live in this hope during the present time with a view to a hope-filled future in anticipation of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

In the 1999 movie, Music Of The Heart, based on the true story of single parent, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who, against all obstacles, pursues her vocational dream of teaching violin to children in an inner-city school. Roberta faces resistance from teachers, parents, and students alike.

However, with sheer perseverance, and a deep love for the children and the music, Roberta’s program and teaching talents produces successful and popular results. Several of her students gain enough confidence and inspiration to further their education and develop promising careers—including her own two sons.

Nonetheless, after ten years of teaching, the school district authorities threaten to eliminate Roberta’s program due to budget cutbacks. Roberta decides to fight back and discovers that several others—including world class professional musicians—support her cause and agree to perform a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall.

Music of The Heart is a contemporary story that epitomizes, among other things, what it means to live in hope in the present and for the future. As Claire Booth Luce once said: “There is no such thing as a hopeless situation. There are only people who have gotten hopeless about it.”

Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are given the opportunity to begin again; to give up our false or misplaced hopes and renew our true hopes; to dream dreams; see visions like the prophet Isaiah; to live in hope now and for the future. The first candle of Advent is burning now and serves as a reminder of walking in the light of the LORD. Jesus our Light, has come, is ever coming in the everyday ordinary events of life, and, one day, shall come again to fulfill all of the biblical prophecies in a complete, definitive way. That is our hope, which gives us more than enough to live for in the present and for the future!

Our lives are like this first Advent candle of hope; they can shine light in the dark places of our community, our city, our province, our nation and world. It often starts out small—like baby Jesus did in a humble manger long ago. Yet, the more we exercise and live in hope, the larger it grows, until more and more people’s lives are touched by: a simple smile, a kind word, a loving deed, a heartfelt prayer, a shedding of tears, and shared joyful laughter. As lights burning with the Light of Christ in us and through us we can and do make a difference—spreading God’s life transforming hope to one and all! Ours is a living hope, for we worship and serve a living Messiah as he comes to us in and through life’s everyday events and the worshipping community gathered around the word and sacrament. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

 

 

1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 292.

2 Victor Zinkuratire, “Isaiah 1-39,” in: Daniel Patte, General Editor, Global Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), p. 192.

 

Sermon Christ the King Yr C

Christ the King Sunday Yr C, 25/11/2007

Jer 23:1-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The LORD is our Righteousness”

 

James S. Hewett tells the following story: The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he bypassed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why, you are, of course.” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval.

Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are, O mighty lion.”

Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question: “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times, and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally threw him up on the shore.

The lion—beaten, bruised, and battered—struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for you to get mean about it!”1

Although some may find this story somewhat humorous, there is a truth to it similar to that of our first lesson from Jeremiah. In today’s first lesson, the prophet begins by speaking out against the political leadership of Judah. Jeremiah speaks a woe against Judah’s kings. He says they, in large part, are responsible for the sheep, the people of Judah being scattered and taken into Babylonian exile.

Indeed, Jeremiah had warned his contemporary, King Zedekiah, who was a puppet king, not to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. However, Zedekiah did not listen, and therefore he, and the people of Judah suffered the tragic consequences—they were taken into Babylonian exile for seventy years. Like the vanity of the lion in the story who ends up being thrown around by the elephant; Zedekiah who out of vanity thinks he can throw his weight around and assert his authority; ends up being defeated by the Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar, and living under his authority.

However, as Jeremiah prophesied, the story did not end there. In verses three and four, Jeremiah tells us what God will do: First, he will gather the remnant of his scattered flock in exile and will bring them together to the fold. They shall return to Judah. Second, they shall be fruitful and multiply, in fulfillment of the covenant God made with his people. Third, God will raise up good shepherds-leaders over them who will shepherd them. These shepherds will not be corrupt or selfish or vain—they will genuinely care for the people.

According to Jeremiah the consequences of these liberating actions of God for the people of Judah are: they shall not live in fear any longer nor be dismayed, nor shall any of the people be missing. They shall live together in community and enjoy their freedom.

Then, in verses five and six, Jeremiah, speaking of the future, prophesied that the long-expected Messiah would eventually come. One scholar, Professor Ralph Klein, commenting on these verses, has this to say about a Hebrew word play, which underscores the important reign of the coming Messiah: The king’s new name “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” reads in Hebrew yhwh sidqenu.  This king can be seen as the direct opposite of Jeremiah’s contemporary Zedekiah, written in Hebrew as sidqiyahu.  “Yahweh is the source of our vindication” is “Zedekiah” written backwards!  The messiah’s name points to the real source of hope:  Yahweh is the source of our vindication.2 In other words, just as the name of King Zedekiah is the reverse of the coming Messiah-King, so too shall the reign of the coming Messiah-King be the opposite of Zedekiah’s reign as well as that of all previous unfaithful shepherd-kings of Israel and Judah.

Today, on this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday. We Christians, reading Jeremiah’s prophecy of the Messiah-King, interpret it to refer to Jesus as our Messiah-King. In this prophecy, it is rather telling that the name of the Messiah-King is: “The LORD is our righteousness.” This name for Jesus, a righteous Branch from David’s line, also describes quite well the very function of Jesus’ reign.

Over against all other kings in history who are sinful, self-centred, and all-too-easily corrupt and unjust in the abuse of their authority and power; King Jesus, according to Jeremiah, “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

As we know from the New Testament, the wisdom of King Jesus is a different kind of wisdom than that of this world. The apostle Paul tells us that the foolishness of God is wiser than worldly wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than earthly strength. What kind of wisdom is that? It is the wisdom of Jesus Christ crucified. On the cross Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Unlike the palaces and thrones of earthly kings, the palace of Jesus is his kingdom, which is not of this world, and consists of the world’s poor, weak and forgotten peoples. Jesus’ throne was not decorated with silver or gold or any other expensive material—rather, it was a plain, ordinary, wooden cross. That is the wisdom of King Jesus, who came to welcome the last and least first; and those who are now first shall be last and least in his future realm. Such wisdom is the reverse of all worldly kings.

Jeremiah goes on to promise that King Jesus our Messiah “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Unlike all worldly kings who can be subject to bribes and political intrigue to protect their authority and power; King Jesus shall not execute justice and righteousness on the basis of bribes or political intrigues. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus shall grant justice to the lowest of the low; unlike the case of that poor widow who kept coming to the unjust judge; King Jesus shall come to deliver his justice even before the widow states her case. Unlike worldly justice, which relies so heavily on military and political force; the justice of King Jesus shall be based on perfect peace, the non-violent shalom of God.

Moreover, combined with the justice of King Jesus, there shall be righteousness. Jeremiah says: “The LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” God sees us as righteous by looking at Jesus. Unlike all other kings, King Jesus is without sin. What he has and is—namely, his righteousness—becomes what we shall receive as a gift of grace. He is OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS because he is the only one who could ever be perfectly righteous—without King Jesus we have no hope of obtaining or achieving righteousness. To employ an imperfect example: Without a boat or airplane, it would not be possible for us to travel safely and reach a destination here from Canada over to Europe or Asia or Africa. Without Christ our King, it is not possible to be righteous—he carries us safely into the Promised Land of his realm of righteousness. This has been accomplished for us thanks to his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection. We don’t have to live in dread or fear of the present or the future. In the present we do see inklings of Christ’s reign as we pray: “Your kingdom come.” Today we can indeed celebrate Christ our King, confident that our future is full of hope and joy, peace and love in the Perfect Realm, which has no end. As composer G.F. Handel so majestically proclaims in The Messiah: “He shall reign forever and ever!” Thanks be to God! Amen!

1 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 312.

2 I am grateful to Professor Klein for his insightful commentary at: <http://fontes.lstc.edu/~rklein/Documents/pentcost.htm#Christ&gt;.