A Lectionary Reflection on Revelation 5:11-14, 3rd Sunday of Easter Yr C

Image credit: Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, is written in the genre of apocalyptic literature. The Greek word apokalypsis, means revelation, to unveil what was previously hidden. Apocalyptic literature has been associated with historical contexts of the persecution and sufferings of faith communities. One of the main purposes of writing in this genre is to communicate hope for the future and encourage communities to keep the faith and persevere. The language employed in Revelation is highly symbolic, a kind of underground language, written with the hope of preventing authorities hostile to the faith community from seeing it as in opposition to them and censoring it. Accordingly, the author, one John, was believed to be in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. He addresses his letter “to the seven churches that are in Asia,” i.e. modern day Turkey. Revelation contains several visions of John.

In our pericope, the author describes, in symbolic language, a vision that emphasises the worship, the adoration of God on the heavenly throne along with Jesus the Lamb.

John sees myriads of angels, the living creatures and the elders surrounding God’s throne and singing loudly a hymn, a song of praise, first of all addressed to the Lamb. The word Lamb, referring to Jesus, emphasises the sacrifice of Jesus for humankind on the cross. Lamb is also reminiscent of the Passover, wherein the Israelites, while in Egyptian slavery, were commanded by God to place the blood of slaughtered lambs on their doors, so that the angel of death would pass over their homes and save them from death. So, in both faiths—Judaism and Christianity the symbol of a Lamb or lamb’s blood is associated with life, deliverance and freedom. The hymn of praise to Jesus the Lamb here in verse 12 is incorporated into Christian liturgy as a hymn of praise, sung by millions of Christians today.

As the vision continues in verses 13 and 14, the worship now expands to include every living creature in the universe, singing their hymn of praise addressed this time to God who sits on the throne and the Lamb. The attributes to describe God and the Lamb in both hymns or one ongoing hymn are similar: power, wealth, wisdom, might, honour, glory, and blessing.

One homiletic possibility may be to focus on the question of what does it mean to worship God and Jesus the Lamb today? In relation to that, a focus on the significance of music and liturgy in worship to offer our praise and sense of awe and wonder together in the presence of the faith community and of God, may be one way to develop a sermon. Each Sunday is a reminder and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, and the consequences of that event for the church as well as all of creation.

A Lectionary Reflection on John 20:19-31, 2nd Sunday of Easter

My Lord & My God by H.C. Varghese

On the first Easter evening, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, without the presence of the disciple Thomas. It needs to be emphasized that the locked doors “for fear of the Jews” is something of an anachronism. The first generation of disciples were all Jews, and most likely rather than reading into this pericope a division between Jews and Christians, we need to view the followers of Jesus here as Jews within Judaism. The final division between Jews who did not follow Jesus and those who did had not occurred at this point in time. There were likely several different groups of Jews within Judaism at this time who discussed and debated with one another concerning a variety of matters, including the risen Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean that they were extremely hostile towards one another. No. Rather, it probably means the opposite. We are usually most comfortable discussing and debating matter with whom we are closest to—our friends, family members and colleagues. The phrase “the Jews” then certainly, emphatically, does not mean all Jews, since the disciples themselves were Jews. Were they fearful of themselves on this occasion? Perhaps, or perhaps not, we cannot be certain about that. However, given the events of that last week of Jesus’ life, fear of the disciples even of themselves maybe should not be ruled out as a factor—since they were, among other things, likely experiencing a host of thoughts and emotions, including fear and grief. “The Jews,” if it does not include the disciples, most likely refers to only some Jews—perhaps a small group who made some kind of agreement with the Roman authorities, from which they benefited.

When the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, his first words are: “Peace be with you.” The Shalom-Peace greeting was, and still is a common one among Jews and Christians then as well as today. Here it occurs twice, and the second time, as Jesus gives the disciples a commission, a sending out to forgive and retain sins, he breathed on them the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in Paul’s list of fruit of the Holy Spirit in his Letter to the Galatians, Shalom-Peace is mentioned as the third fruit. How we all need that fruit of the Holy Spirit in our churches, synagogues and other places of worship, as well as in our world today! This is especially so after the Islamic terrorists bombing and killing of more than 300 Christians while they were worshipping on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

Three homiletic possibilities: i) The risen Jesus’ commissioning-sending the disciples and Christians of every generation out into the world to share the Holy Spirit’s fruit of Shalom-Peace—especially in the most violent and troubled places of our globe. ii) The importance of forgiveness in our relationships with everyone—especially our enemies during times of mad hatred all around us. iii) A sermon focussing on the disciple Thomas as an exemplar for us—in processing his grief, the movement from doubt and skepticism to faith, the joyful response of confessing the risen Jesus as: “My Lord and my God!” How do we process our grief and move from doubt and skepticism to faith and joy by being among the multitude of generations of not seeing Jesus, yet believing that he is our risen Messiah and Saviour?

A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 24:1-12, Resurrection of Our Lord Yr C

In all four gospel resurrection accounts, it is significant that Mary Magdalene is mentioned; and the names and number of other women however vary. For example, in Matthew there is Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt 28:1); in Mark there is Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome (MK 16:1); in Luke there is Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them (Lk 24:10); and in John there is only Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:1, 11-18). Obviously Mary Magdalene was a respected disciple among the earliest followers of Jesus. She and other women remained loyal to Jesus right up to the end—they were present at his crucifixion when the other male disciples had gone into hiding, they followed Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb where Jesus was laid, and they were the first to show up at the tomb early on the day after the Sabbath with the intention of respectfully anointing the dead body of Jesus with the spices that they had prepared prior to the Sabbath and had now brought with them to the tomb. The women—especially Mary Magdalene, as she is the first witness and preacher of the resurrection of Jesus—then are examples of faithful discipleship.

There is a great irony in the resurrection narratives in that, at that time, women were not accepted as ‘official’ witnesses to significant events—it was a patriarchal world. Yet, here they are the first witnesses of, for many—perhaps the majority—of Christians, one of the, if not ‘the’ most significant event of all history—the resurrection of Jesus. For the resurrected Jesus to reveal himself to the women first is a radical new tradition of valuing women as equals with men in the church which, for the most part, unfortunately was not realised until the twentieth century.

In our Lucan resurrection account, the surprise element is another prominent motif, as the women come to the tomb early Sunday morning most likely expecting the stone to be covering the tomb entrance, and inside the dead body of Jesus. Instead, they discovered the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. The word in Luke to describe the womens’ first response to this is ‘perplexed.’ Perhaps they were worried that Jesus’ body had been stolen and, in the worst case scenario, that they would never find his body. What were they to do now?

The surprise motif comes to the forefront again with two men in dazzling clothes suddenly standing beside them. This terrified them so much that they wouldn’t even look at them. The two men totally surprised them with the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, citing one of Jesus’ resurrection predictions that they had heard earlier in his public ministry.

Upon hearing this Good News, the women remembered Jesus’ words and then went to the eleven disciples—at this time Judas was no longer with them—to be the first preachers of Jesus’ resurrection.

Sadly, the eleven male apostles thought it was an idle tale—the Good News translation renders it ‘nonsense,’ and they refused to believe the women.

However, Peter being the impulsive person that he was, goes to the tomb to see for himself and ends up being ‘amazed.’

Homiletic possibilities may include: i) the significance of women in ministry and Jesus’ affirmation of the same; ii) the surprised by joy nature of the resurrection; iii) the dialectic between doubt and faith, unbelief and belief; iv) being ‘amazed’ messengers of the resurrection today; v) living with resurrection hope in the present and the future.

A Lectionary Reflection on Isaiah 55:1-9, Lent 3

Image credit: godtube.com

I love the Book of Isaiah, it is so rich in communicating God’s chesedlovingkindness—and grace. Those who believe that the Hebrew Bible and the God described in the Hebrew Bible are filled with doom and gloom, judgement and condemnation need to read the Book of Isaiah. Yes, there are oracles of judgement in Isaiah, however it is also bursting at the seams with messages of lovingkindness and grace.

The Book of Isaiah is a complex one, yet, at the same time, it enunciates the beauty of simplicity. Many scholars divide it into three sections and most likely three different periods of history: Chapters 1-39; chapters 40-55; and chapters 56-66. They are referred to as First Isaiah, Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah respectively. Scholars differ concerning their authorship—e.g., some believe the Book of Isaiah may have been compiled by a group of editors/prophets or ‘school of Isaiah’ so-to-speak, while others contend each of the sections were written by three different individuals, as well as other theories. Our pericope likely dates back to the time of the Babylonian exile (ca. 587-538 B.C.E.), perhaps near the end of it, as the content of this oracle is one of a hopeful future—indeed, the title of this oracle in my Bible is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.”

The oracle begins with a message of God’s grace. The picture is rather profound in that first of all everyone is given this grace-filled invitation without exception; and second, the economy of God’s grace is the exact reversal of all human economies based on a monetary system. The invitation makes it abundantly clear that God’s grace cannot be bought with money—it is free! Therefore the rich have no advantage over the poor, all are equal in God’s eyes. In God’s economy of grace no money is required—rather, God’s banquet feast of food and drink are free and accessible to everyone. What abundance, what generosity God offers here!

Verses two and three continue with this motif of God’s abundant grace, however there is a clarifying injunction, the exilic citizens of Judah and Jerusalem are commanded to “Listen carefully…,” “Incline your ear…,” “listen, so that you may live.” I believe it was Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, who once said: “The first duty of love is to listen.” Listening makes all the difference in the world, it is, or at least has the potential of being, a matter of life or death. Those who listen are often more open to the blessings of what life has to offer them through the multidimensional workings of God’s grace. Failure to listen can, and often does lead to sinful thoughts, words and actions that lead to: self-inflicted suffering, alienated and broken relationships with God and other human beings, divisions, the devastation of creation, evil, injustice, war and destruction.

In the case of this pericope, listening while eating and drinking at God’s grace-filled banquet feast is connected with celebrating God’s “everlasting covenant” now expanding from David’s line to include all of God’s chosen people—verses four and five. God’s chosen people graced with an everlasting covenant shall “call nations that [they] you do not know,” and in response to this “call,” these nations “shall run to you.” They shall do this running because of God’s grace and initiative toward his chosen people.

Verses six and seven shift in their emphasis, inviting people, including “the wicked,” to repent of their sinful ways; which involves returning to the Holy One, the One who created and loved them from the beginning. This call to repentance, to return to the LORD has a profound consequence: “he may have mercy on them…,” and “he will abundantly pardon.” Mercy and abundance are the very attributes of God; they are also associated with God’s grace, lovingkindness/chesed, and God’s fidelity to the everlasting covenant.

The closing verses of this pericope are a reminder of God’s sovereignty, God’s transcendence, God’s ‘wholly/holy otherness,’ and in the presence of God’s ‘wholly/holy otherness,’ our humility—reminding us of our finitude and limitations, which are a message of grace too, since they reveal our need of God, our hunger and thirst for God, our constant state of returning to God in order to live the abundant life. We are graced to share God’s abundance even as we live in our various forms of exile.

A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 13:31-35, Lent 2

Image Credit: Gospel Book of Otto III, flickriver.com

This week’s gospel begins with “some Pharisees” described in a more positive way by warning Jesus that Herod “that fox” (a predator, crafty animal that looks for chickens to kill and eat) wants to kill him. The phrase “some Pharisees” is a reminder to the readers of this gospel that not all Pharisees can easily be stereotyped, and that they were a diverse group of religious leaders—some of whom most likely did not oppose Jesus.

In contrast to this group of Pharisees, Herod is after Jesus’ blood, and wants him dead. Indeed, Herod was a treacherous man who had beheaded John the Baptizer.

In Jesus’ message to Herod via these Pharisees, he emphasized that his mission of ushering in God’s realm must continue—i.e., casting out demons and performing cures were signs of his messianic identity, and likely could be perceived as a threat to Herod, since people flocked to Jesus, and this had the potential to cause political unrest. Jesus’ words communicate courage and a single-mindedness in carrying out his messianic mission—that he was not about to be intimidated by Herod’s machinations.

Then Jesus goes on to lament over Jerusalem: “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” In this lament, one can sense how heart-breaking it was for Jesus to experience the rejection and hatred of people he came to love. The metaphor that he employs is the loving, brave and protecting hen that gathers her brood of chicks when there is danger. This image that Jesus associates himself and his messianic mission with is a message of encouragement and affirmation of the feminine.

The heart-breaking lament in response to rejection and hatred is a reminder to all of us of Jesus’ solidarity with members of the human race who lament because they are rejected and hated. There are far too many in the world today who are heart-broken and suffer untold pain because of being rejected and hated for the colour of their skin, being a different gender, or belonging to the wrong socio-economic, ethnic, linguistic or religious group. How can we see these folks as the presence of Jesus in our midst today and welcome them?

In the closing verse of our gospel, Jesus may be referring to his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when the crowds welcome him with these words that he quotes here from the last Hallel Psalm (Psalm 118:26), which was sung at the Jewish festivals, including after eating the Passover meal.

 

 

A Brief Lectionary Reflection on Deut. 26:1-11, Lent 1

Image credit: Yebin Mun

This pericope includes instructions to the Israelites when they began to settle in the Promised Land and survived via an agrarian way of life. They were to bring to the priest at the place of worship the first fruit of their harvest as an offering. This was a reminder to them of how the LORD God provided for them.

Included in the ceremony of giving the first fruit to the priest is a confession of faith beginning with the words: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor….” This ancestor, some scholars believe, was Jacob, who lived for many years in the land of Aram, modern day Syria.

The confession of faith goes on to emphasise the importance of remembering how the Israelites suffered as slaves in Egypt, and how the LORD God delivered them from slavery through the Exodus event, bringing them to and giving them “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In other words, God delivered them from an oppressive, poverty-stricken state of existence to a new life of freedom and opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle through the means of a fertile land.

This confession of faith connects with the gospel pericope in that it is by way of confessing one’s faith and remembering God through that act of confessing that is life-giving and helps one to depend on God for deliverance from temptation and oppression. The confession is then an act of expressing one’s ultimate loyalty to God.

Following the confession, the Levites, together with the people bringing their first fruits, along with “the aliens” celebrate the bounty provided by God. This is a beautiful picture emphasising the inclusive nature of new life in the Promised Land—implying that no one is left out, there is enough for everyone. A very pertinent message for the situation in many parts of the world today, where there is an ever-growing need to welcome and care for refugees.

This pericope has many preaching possibilities—everything from an emphasis on stewardship, giving God the first fruits NOT the leftovers, Thanksgiving, gratitude, to the importance of confessing our faith as an act of ultimate allegiance to God, to living out our faith by making our community, province, nation, world more welcome and inclusive.

Brief thoughts on Hosea 2:23-Names

Brief thoughts on Hosea 2:23-Names

ירחמו Pitied

האנשים שלי My people
In my devotions this morning, one of the texts I read was Hosea 
2:14-23. The last verse, 23, in particular lept out at me. It 
reminded me of the importance of names. Indeed, the prophet 
Hosea, who was active in the eight century BCE, employs the 
names of people to symbolize the relationship between God and 
Israel. The name Hosea in Hebrew means salvation. This prophet 
then was a proclaimer of God’s message of salvation for God’s 
people.
   Like most of the Israelite prophets, God called them to 
proclaim messages of warning and judgement as well as promise 
and hope. The prophets most likely did not win any popularity 
contests! 
   During the time that Hosea was active as a prophet, the 
Israelites were highly attracted to the Canaanite gods and the 
worship rituals associated with them—which were, of course in 
violation of the First Commandment, and other Commandments 
as well. 
   Another temptation amongst the leaders of the Israelites was 
to form alliances with the Assyrians and Egyptians, for military 
protection and security. However, God was not pleased with such 
political and military alliances. Rather, God sees such alliances as 
a lack of faith/trust in him. 
   Hosea in chapter two, verse twenty-three speaks a prophetic 
word of promise and hope for the Israelites in the future. The 
name of Hosea’s child Lo-ruhamah, which means “not pitied,” will 
be changed to “I will have pity.” In other words, Israel’s suffering 
and judgement due to their unfaithfulness to God and God’s 
covenant will be reversed. God’s grace and mercy shall prevail in 
a renewed covenant relationship with God and God’s people. The 
name change of this child is a living symbol then of God’s grace, 
mercy and lovingkindness. 
   The same is true in the case of the child named Lo-ammi, 
which means “Not my people.” Lo-ammi shall be given the name 
“You are my people” as a living symbol of God’s renewed 
covenant relationship with the Israelites. 
   Names are extremely important. What is your name? What 
does it mean for you as you live your life? What might your name 
mean in relationship with God and with other people? Does your 
name reveal the grace, mercy and lovingkindness that God 
desires for everyone? Hopefully it will be a sign, a symbol of 
God’s presence and blessing in your life as well as in the lives 
of others. 

 

5 Favourite Marty Haugen Hymns

Marty Haugen is one of my favourite contemporary hymn writers/composers. He also has written/composed contemporary liturgies. Here are five of my favourite Marty Haugen hymns.



Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Gushulak

Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Solvejg Gushulak, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Bawlf Cemetery, 8/09/2018.

 

There are some deaths that we would speak of as “untimely.” These deaths often come as a surprise, and are tragic, premature, and unexpected. Then, there are other deaths that we speak of as “timely.” These deaths are often not a surprise. Rather, they seem to bring to completion a life well lived. Although those of you who knew and loved Helga will most certainly miss her; and mourn her loss; it is quite fitting that you can also remember her and give God thanks for her life.

In our passage from Ecclesiastes, the writer speaks a lot of timeliness. He tells us there is a time and purpose for everything in life, and then proceeds to name the various stages and experiences of life’s journey. For someone like Helga, these stages and experiences of the life cycle ring true, as the LORD blessed her with a ripe old age of 92 years.

Even though the LORD saw it fit that it is Helga’s time to die; her life shall remain a part of yours as you cherish your memories of her. Even though there is a time to mourn and cry; Helga’s time now with the LORD in heaven is a time of laughing and dancing and rejoicing—just as she met her husband Pawlo/Paul at a dance hall, so now she’ll meet him again and the LORD of the dance in heaven and they will dance to their hearts’ content. A time to live in perfect peace with God.

During Helga’s time with us at Bethany Meadows, she quite enjoyed staying in her room. There she passed her time doing puzzles and reading mystery-romance novels, and welcoming visitors.

Let me tell you about the greatest mystery-romance, and it’s not a novel, rather it’s true and real. Let me also tell you about the greatest welcome of all. In our Gospel passage, Jesus promises that he’s preparing a place in heaven for us, so that eventually he will come and take us to himself, telling us: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” What a wonderful promise that is! The sense of what Jesus speaks of here is something we can all relate to—namely, that of entering your house after a long journey and finding it has been made completely ready for you to live in by someone who loves you. Isn’t that great when we discover that all of the details have been looked after; all is prepared for us; all we do is arrive and wow! what a surprise! Isn’t it great to be welcomed like that. What a joy that will be! What a gift that is! We call it God’s saving grace. And Jesus offers it to each of us—including Helga. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Graveside sermon for Eveline Grymaloski

Open Bible-public domain image

Graveside sermon for Eveline Grymaloski, based on Rom 5:1-5 & Isa 25:6-9, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Camrose Cemetery, July 10, 2018.

As I thought about Eveline, one of the first things that came to mind was that she was a person of character—that reminded me of the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Notice that Paul says our life as followers of Jesus is productive. As I think of Eveline, I believe that she was a person of endurance—she had to be, since she lived for 100 years! Now that’s endurance! Her endurance however was not stagnant rather, it produced character, and her character produced hope.

Eveline was a sweet person, and will be dearly missed by you family members, as well as by our residents and staff.

She was an avid reader. On occasion, she would read something humorous, and then she would take it to the staff members of Spruce Cottage and read it for them. After that, she would have a good laugh with the staff.

Eveline enjoyed visiting with her companion, Phyllis, they had many meaningful conversations together.

There was a poem that she liked to recite for staff: “Won’t you be mine, Eveline? Yes I will, yes I will, if you only be still.”

She was a very friendly, happy and affectionate person. Residents and staff can remember Eveline holding their hand, kissing it, and then wiping off her kiss with a Kleenex.

For as long as she was able, she participated in exercises. She also did very well in getting around with her wheelchair—in fact, at the blink of an eye, she was half way down the hallway! I teased her about that, and told her she was speeding, and she had better watch out, because she might get a speeding ticket! 🙂

Eveline was a singer, she loved participating in our cottage Hymn-Sings. She also enjoyed attending the Sunday church Services, Wednesday Devotions, and when she was able, the Thursday night Bible studies.

Eveline’s faith was very important to her, and her husband, being a pastor, I’m sure was encouraged by her faith—as most likely were you family members too.

Because Eveline was a person of faith, I’m sure the following words of Isaiah 25:6-9 also apply to her now, as she has gone ahead of us to be with her Lord.

The prophet writes these wonderful words: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Death and the celebration of the final victory over death—that is what the prophet Isaiah proclaims in this passage. His message is one of celebration, hope and comfort. Isaiah reassures his people and all of us here today that we don’t have to be afraid of death, God will destroy death forever.

In verse six, Isaiah pictures all peoples gathering on Mount Zion in the new Jerusalem, where God will act as a host and a chef. God will prepare a huge banquet-feast. In this feast you will not have to worry about diet restrictions or things like diabetes, high cholesterol, or gluten-free foods. Rather, you will be able to eat every food because it is the LORD who will prepare it and he will serve only what is healthy for everyone. So this huge banquet-feast will be absolutely delicious—everyone will enjoy their favourite foods, and there will be such an abundance, enough for everybody.

So the picture of this banquet-feast is one of joy and celebration. Isaiah tells us the reason for such a huge celebration. God will destroy death by swallowing it up forever. No more death.

Once death is destroyed by being swallowed up forever, Isaiah tells his people and us: “Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.” In other words, once death is gone forever there will be no more reason for sadness, crying and grief. God will wipe away the tears from all faces like a loving parent wipes away the tears from their crying child to comfort and reassure them. In this act of God wiping away everyone’s tears we have a picture of God as a tender, loving parent.

So, we wait for the future time with hope, trusting that God is going to do what these words of Isaiah promise he will do. God is in control of your future, my future, and everyone’s future. Eveline knew that, and I pray that you do too. Amen.