Sermon All Saints Sunday Yr B

All Saints Sunday Yr B, 1/11/2009

Isa 25:6-9

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“God’s saving acts”

 

The story is told of two evil brothers. They were rich and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians.

Then their pastor retired, and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he also spoke well and true, and the church started to build a new assembly. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building.

“I have only one condition,” he said. “At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check.

The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” he said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”1

The story, although humorous, raises the following question on this All Saints Sunday: Who is a saint? Is a saint one who does not sin? Are saints reserved for such elitist people who think they are perfect? Do you have to undergo some “burning bush” or “Damascus road” encounter with God before you qualify as a saint? Or perhaps you have to work miracles like making the blind see and the lame walk to be a saint? Maybe you have to be a prophet and predict the future to be a saint? Or do you have to be a televangelist and accumulate over one million dollars a year income to qualify as a saint?

Who is a saint anyways? Well, it seems Christians have trouble agreeing on who qualifies as a saint. A number of years ago, a bishop of Sweden said, “Saints are those who make it easier to believe in God.” Not a bad definition, yet I’m not completely convinced, since that seems to suggest there is an elitist group of folks who tower above the rest of us. On the other hand, the truth of the matter is that even those who make it easier to believe in God have their imperfections and shortcomings. You, me, all of us have feet of clay. So I’ll go for another definition of a saint. Who is a saint? The right answer for me is: A forgiven sinner. We Lutherans historically have preferred this answer, as we believe that we are simul justus et peccator—translated into English that means we are simultaneously justified and sinful. At one and the same time we are sinners and saints.

You don’t need to do anything; you cannot do a thing to save yourself—only God can do that. Yet, paradoxically, we are commanded to do good works. However, not because they can make one iota of a difference in God’s eyes to get on the good side of God and he’ll reward us eternally for them. NO WAY! Rather, we do good works because they are the result of—and our response to— what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. You see, we take very seriously the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We also take very seriously the words in 1 John 4:19: “We love, because he (God) first loved us.” So, every good work we are able to do is possible because God first acted to take the initiative, to love and save us first.

Speaking of God’s saving love and action; we have a beautiful picture of this in today’s passage from Isaiah. The metaphors grab our attention. Isaiah gives us a picture here of the LORD playing host on Mount Zion at a future banquet feast. He is host “for all peoples” whom he loves. God’s menu shall not consist of ordinary fare either. Rather, on the menu shall be quite exquisite food and drink: “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Notice too that the Central Actor is the LORD; he’s the one who shall prepare and serve this banquet feast.

The next verse continues with God as the Central Actor. Now the metaphors change though. In verse seven we have the Warrior God who “will destroy…the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.” The shroud and sheet that the prophet is referring to here is death, which is the consequence of sin in the world. In the last segment of this verse, Isaiah gives us yet another picture that parallels the previous verse. However this time, it’s God who is doing the eating. Did you notice the strange fare? Isaiah tells us that the LORD “will swallow up death forever.” Now that doesn’t sound very appetizing to me—however, who am I to tell God what to eat?! Why would Isaiah describe God’s destruction of death by making a banquet feast for God out of it? Well, maybe it’s not so strange—at least to a Jewish audience.

The rabbis in their general and humorous playfulness pictured “the coming age” under many images, and one of them was the delightful image of the huge banquet in which Messiah would gather together with his people. As a matter of fact in some of these playful rabbinic exercises one had even settled the menu for the messianic banquet. One was going to feed on Leviathan, thereby signifying the destruction of evil at the same time as there would be the great and glorious banquet.2 So it is here with Isaiah the prophet who sees a future bursting with hope and joy at God the Warrior’s victory over and destruction of death. Notice that Isaiah tells us death will not come back to haunt us at a later date. NO! The LORD “will swallow up death FOREVER! What a victory that shall be—one in which all of our longings of hope and joy shall be fulfilled.

God doesn’t stop there though. Listen, there’s more here of God the Central Actor. In verse eight, Isaiah changes the metaphor on us again. Now the LORD is like a gentle Father. The prophet tells us there will be no more sadness, since God “will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Usually tears are also connected with sadness and death as well as suffering. In this future reign of God, all of that shall be wiped away by our LORD. Now that’s something to look forward to with hope and joy. Isaiah goes on to say in verse nine that God will continue to act, how? He says, “the disgrace of his people God will take away from all the earth.” Why disgrace? Well disgrace comes from our sinful state, we do things that we regret later when we look back on those foolish, sinful acts. However, what’s done is done, and can disgrace us; we can’t undo what we did, even though we desperately wish that we could. We cannot always reverse the disgrace we bring upon ourselves. We need the LORD’s help. Isaiah promises that God will help us by taking away our disgrace from all the earth. After it has been taken away, then we can come closer to our LORD and live more in peace and harmony with him as well as with each other.

The closing verse nine of our passage then focuses on the response of God’s people, the saints who shall be the recipients of all of these acts of God. Here Isaiah records the saints giving God the glory and worship and honour for what he has done: “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.” So the response of God’s saints to the saving acts of God is twofold here: waiting for the LORD and worshipping him in gladness by rejoicing in his salvation.

On this All Saints Sunday, we continue to wait for the LORD as we long for that time when we shall share more completely in the communion of saints in heaven. Yet, we also worship God in gladness by rejoicing in his salvation thanks to what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us by giving us a Holy Meal to bask in his Presence among us and receive “a foretaste of the feast to come,” the heavenly banquet which has no end. Amen.

 1 Cited from: David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), pp. 265-266.

2 Cited from: Krister Stendahl, Meanings: The Bible as Document and as Guide (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 185.

 

 

 

Sermon 19 Pentecost, Yr A

19 Pentecost Yr A, 21/09/2008

Exod 16:2-15

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“God provides bread and meat in the wilderness”

 

James and the Giant Peach is a fairy tale about an orphan boy, James, who is forced to live with his two cruel aunts. He dreams about escaping to a wonderful place across the ocean his parents had told him about—New York City. When a sympathetic stranger appears with a bagful of magic, James (played by Paul Terry) begins his journey with a giant peach and bizarre, life-size insects.

In one scene, James and his insect friends float on the giant peach as they cross the Atlantic Ocean. A flock of birds holds and propels the peach, each tied to it with string. The centipede says desperately, “Want food. Food.” He looks at the grasshopper, who suddenly turns into a block of cheese and a bottle of wine. The centipede rubs his eyes in disbelief and then looks at the worm, who suddenly turns into a mustard-covered hot dog. He shakes his head and looks up at the birds, one of which abruptly turns into a whole cooked chicken. Salivating, he grabs the bird’s string and pulls it down. As he attempts to bite into the now live and struggling bird, the ladybug hits him with her purse and insists that he put the bird down. The centipede lets go and complains, “But I’m dying of hunger.”

The ladybug responds, “Oh, perhaps I have a bit of soda bread in here.” She takes a chunk out of her purse.

Seeing this, the grasshopper says, “Food?” and grabs the bread. He insists, “I need the food. I have a much higher metabolism.” He takes a bite as the angry centipede lunges at him. They struggle comically for the chunk before it accidentally bounces off the peach and falls into the ocean.

The worm laments, “We’re going to starve. Waste away. And not quickly. Miserably. Painfully.”

James, who has silently been watching the feud, presses the peach’s surface, which gives way just a bit. He raises his hands and happily announces, “Nobody’s going to starve! Don’t you see? We have enough food here for five voyages.”

He climbs down a small hole in the peach, then quickly reemerges with a big chunk of peach. “The whole ship is made of food.” He gives some to the centipede, grasshopper, and ladybug.

The centipede rejoices, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot.”1

In today’s first lesson, we have a similar situation as this fairy tale. The Israelites grow impatient, tired and become cranky as they wander about in the wilderness. It isn’t long before their discontent is aired, they start to complain to their leaders, Aaron and Moses—blaming them for leading them on what they think is a pointless journey to nowhere. They even lament that things were much better back in Egypt when they were slaves—at least they had food there that they enjoyed.

How quickly the Israelites and we too forget! Far too soon, the Israelites panic and fear. Their panic and fear leads them into complaining about their situation. They have forgotten what the LORD had recently done. Had the LORD not just spared their lives from Pharaoh’s army and the waters of the sea? Had the LORD not provided them with the leadership team of Moses and Aaron? Had the LORD not perfectly prepared Moses as a leader for this specific task? Earlier in his life Moses had learned the traditions of Pharaoh’s court; he had also learned as a shepherd how to survive in the wilderness. Had the LORD not been with them in the pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day?

It seems that the Israelites had forgotten the bountiful provision and protection of the LORD in their recent past. It seems instead that they were in a rather romantic mood, longing to be back in Egyptian slavery rather than here in the Sinai Peninsula freed from Pharaoh’s slavery and on their way into a new, Promised Land. They were trying romantically to convince themselves that Egyptian slavery wasn’t so bad—in fact it was the golden-olden days, “Weren’t they great!” they opined. I wonder if we are not like the Israelites a bit too when we look at the past? Do we too romanticize and idealize it like the Israelites, longing for the past rather than trusting God to provide for us in the present and the future? Do we, like ancient Israel, overly romanticize and idealize the past by complaining to our leaders and to God? Do we, like Israel complain so much that we are blind to how God is at work in our midst to abundantly provide for us and protect us in the present and in the future?

It is rather instructive how the Israelites’ complaints are dealt with. First of all, Aaron and Moses do not take their complaints personally. They rightly discern that the Israelites were complaining not against Moses and Aaron, but that their complaints were really against God. This is an important lesson for us who are pastors and leaders in the Church. We too need to be discerning and recognise not to take all the complaints of God’s people personally. Rather, we like Moses and Aaron need to recognise that at times the complaints actually need to be addressed directly to God. Not all complaints should be taken personally—that’s an important insight from this passage beneficial to all pastors and other leaders.

Notice too that God does not respond to the Israelites’ complaints by becoming angry with them or punishing them, or hitting them over the head with law. NO! Rather, God, through Moses and Aaron answers the Israelites as if their complaints were an SOS prayer for help. God has compassion on the Israelites and their plight. God answers their prayers of complaint with mercy, love, and grace. God answers by promising them provision and protection. God provides them with meat in the evening in the form of quails and bread in the morning in the form of manna. God promises to be with them in their journey through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

Israel’s story is also our story. We at Grace Lutheran can trust in God and God’s mercy, love and grace. We can trust that God in the Person of Jesus provides for all of our needs, protects us, and is with us as we journey into the future. May we respond to God’s faithfulness and grace by remembering with thanksgiving God’s abundant provision, protection and presence. May we also trust in God’s faithfulness today; and pray that God’s will be done as we move forward in trusting that whatever our future, Christ is with us.

 

1 Craig Brian Larson & Lori Quicke, Editors, More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching: 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan & Christianity Today International, 2004), pp. 154-155.

Sermon 17 Pentecost, Yr A

 

 

17 Pentecost Yr A, 7/09/2008

Rom 13:8-10

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Love’s Debt”

 

An anonymous person tells the following story: Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.

Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness.

“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”

“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”

“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

I quietly reached over and shut off the metre. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighbourhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

We drove in silence to the address she had given me.

It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You have to make a living,” she answered.

“There are other passengers,” I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”

I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of the day, I could hardly talk.

What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?

What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul instructs the Roman Church and us to: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Here Paul is following the teaching of Jesus and the Torah—namely, that love of one’s neighbour is fulfilling the law and involves keeping the second table of the Ten Commandments, the commandments dealing with our relationships with other human beings.

We may think or believe that we are debt free, that we owe no one anything—however that is not true. Even if our public taxes are faithfully paid and we are financially “debt free;” nonetheless we are, says the apostle Paul, indebted to our neighbours. No human being is an island—or “self-made.” It is thanks to the love of our parents who gave us life and looked after our basic needs when we were helpless and vulnerable that we are here today. It is also thanks to countless neighbours—people from all walks of life who contribute to society in so many ways that we can continue to live and enjoy our life. Most of us do not live on a farm or have vegetable gardens or fruit orchards—we depend on others for such food items and we depend on countless others for all of our goods and services. Many of these folks, who are our neighbours we shall not likely even know or meet. However, we are indebted to them for our basic necessities and, in our society all of the extra luxuries that improve the quality of our lives.

Professor W.A. Poovey tells the following story: A certain miserly man got tired of being asked to give for charitable purposes. So he demanded of his pastor: “Must I always keep giving to the church and to missions? Can’t I ever stop?”

“Oh yes,” replied the pastor. “You can stop. As soon as God stops giving to you, you are under no obligation to give any more.” That was the right answer. For God’s gifts to us are new each day. And he asks us to pay our obligations to him by showing love to his children in this world.1

So, if we are faithful followers of Jesus, we shall love our neighbour out of gratitude for all the many blessings that we receive from others. When we stop to think about all of the times that a neighbour has loved us; hopefully our hearts and lives shall respond by agreeing with the apostle Paul that we do indeed owe a life-long debt of love to our neighbours in appreciation for all that has been given to us. The apostle Paul writing elsewhere reminds us that love is the greatest gift. Moreover, it never ends and always finds ways to make itself real through generous giving. For that, thanks be to God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who continues to give us his unconditional love without end. Amen.

 

1 W.A. Poovey, Faith Is The Password: Meditations on Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1979), p. 111.

 

Sermon 3 Pentecost Yr A

3 Pentecost Yr A, 1/06/2008

Matt 7:21-29

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“House Building”

 

Today’s gospel marks the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is quite instructive for us that at the conclusion of this Sermon, Jesus gives us teachings that are very practical concerning not just speaking the right words but doing the right actions. He also warns all would-be disciples not to be deceived by those who speak well and call attention to their abilities to prophesy, cast out demons and do deeds of power in Christ’s name. There is a word of sober judgement here on such people. There is also a word of warning to listen carefully to Jesus’ words and then act on them. Those who do listen and act in faith are like a wise carpenter who builds on a solid foundation of rock, unlike a foolish carpenter who builds on sand.

The famous Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a vivid parable concerning the danger of becoming just a satisfied customer with religion, an occupation so absorbing that it left no inclination to do anything about it.

He imagined that near the cross of Christ had stood a man who beheld the terrible scene, and then became a professor of what he saw. He explained it all.

Later he witnessed the persecution and imprisonment and cruel beating of the apostles and became professor of what he had witnessed.

He studied the drama of the cross, but he was never crucified with Christ in his own life.

He studied apostolic history, but he did not live apostolically.

He was an observer and a talker about Christianity, but not a doer.1

There is an old adage, “When all is said and done, there is a lot more said, than done!” Is this not true of many people in our world today? There are so many “experts” who know a tremendous amount of information about their subject that they have specialized in, but does their information really get translated into actions, to practical doing? In many cases, I think the information gets lost in the “lack of translation” from the theoretical, the academic, to the practical, active, everyday real life of the world.

This is also related to what Jesus has to say about those who say to Jesus: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Or in modern day language: “Every day a sucker is born. Beware of charlatans who may speak with words of sweetness and light, yet are working overtime to deceive you.”

There are so many charlatans out there—everything from telemarketers on the phone to televangelists on the T.V., to false contractors who prey on seniors promising to do home improvements, to name only a few. Isn’t it interesting that, according to a recent article in The Medicine Hat News Canada is finally cracking down on telemarketers. By this fall, September I believe, Canadian citizens will be able to register and have less pesky telemarketers calling us. I for one am certainly looking forward to that!

In the realm of faith—there surely are no shortage of televangelists out there on T.V. promising things that are rather controversial and questionable. For example, I happened to watch a short advertising blurb by one televangelist lately who promised special blessings on those who would send him money to purchase a handkerchief, which, he claimed, had the power to give blessings. This fake televangelism so insults true Christianity and Jesus himself in that the false televangelists believe they can reduce Jesus to the ability to sell him like any other consumer product for their own personal gain no matter how manipulative and deceitful are their methods as long as it works for them. NO! Jesus soberly warns us today, such folks shall face a hard judgement: “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

In stark contrast to this false, charlatan type of faith, Jesus tells the parable of building one’s faith on a solid rock foundation. What kind of house of faith are you building? Are we building on solid rock, Christ our Lord and Saviour, or are we building on sinking sand?

Albert P. Stauderman tells the following story: For many years a man had worked faithfully as foreman of the building crew for a wealthy contractor. The contractor decided to take a long vacation on a world cruise, but before leaving he gave his foreman a set of plans for a dream house. “Build it according to specifications and spare no expense,” he instructed. “I want this to be a good house for a special reason.”

After the contractor had gone, the foreman thought about the many years he had worked for small wages, and he decided that this was the time to make a profit for himself. He cut down on the specifications for the house and substituted cheap material wherever it would not show, pocketing the difference. Then the contractor returned and examined the house. Then he told the foreman, “You have served me well for many years. In reward I have planned this house for you. It is yours, to own and live in.”

Who got cheated?2

Upon what do we build our house, our faith and life? Is it Christ the solid rock or is it sinking sand? There are many things that people invest in—pouring out their time, energy, money and other talents and resources. However, are they lasting or fleeting? Do they satisfy the deepest needs of life? Do they enhance and strengthen life and faith? Do they contribute to the overall health and well being of individuals and society as a whole? Oftentimes those things that are fleeting and fail to strengthen life and faith may very well appeal to folks at first sight; people may benefit from them in an immediate way; however, when people begin to face the storms, earthquakes and floods of life—when the going gets tough such things shall not last nor give strength to life and faith. It is by listening to Christ’s words and then acting on them in faith that give us strength in life and deepen our faith. If we do this, then we shall surely be able to endure any storms, earthquakes, floods and tornadoes that life dishes out.

Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder always left his audiences laughing. But as he came out of a theatre one night, he was handed a telegram informing him that his son had been killed in action. Lauder cancelled his engagements, but three weeks later he was on his way to France to entertain the troops. “When a man has a great sorrow,” Lauder said, “he can turn sour on life, or turn to drink, or turn to God and find joy and hope in doing his will.”3

People of faith who trust in Christ the rock, our solid foundation to build their house, are folks like Sir Harry Lauder—they obey Christ, they listen and then act, and they “find joy and hope in doing his will.” May God grant all of us sufficient grace so to do. Amen.

1 Cited from: Sermon Illustrations For The Gospel Lessons (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1980, 1981, 1982), pp. 20-21.

2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate: Stories and Quotations for Christian Communicators (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 107.

3 Ibid. p. 67.

 

 

Sermon 2 Pentecost Yr A

2 Pentecost Yr A, 25/05/2008

1 Cor 4:1-5

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Non-judgemental Servants and Stewards”

 

I rather like the “Peanuts” cartoon. In one cartoon there is a girl who came to Charlie Brown and said, “Yes sir, Charlie Brown, Abraham Lincoln was a great man. Charlie Brown, would you like to have been Abraham Lincoln?”

Well, now, I don’t think so,” Charlie answered thoughtfully; “I am having a hard enough time being just plain ole Charlie Brown!”

God never expects me to be a person other than who I am. However, God does expect you and me to make full use of our God-given talents and to live a life of integrity and faithfulness before God.

One faithful follower of Jesus said it like this: “When I die I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not the apostle Paul, why were you not Martin Luther, why were you not this or that famous leader in the Church?’ NO! You and I will be asked, ‘Why were you not you!’”

That is precisely what the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthians in our second lesson today. There were some in the church at Corinth who were trying to compare and play off Apollos, Peter and Paul against one another. They were becoming overly arrogant, proud and judgemental of Apollos, Peter and Paul and dividing themselves up into different camps. Paul counsels them to look at the leaders and leadership of the Church in a different way.

He says: “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” Or as Eugene Peterson states it in The Message: “Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.”

According to Professor Wm. Barclay: The word (Paul) uses for a servant is interesting; it is huperetes and originally meant a rower on the lower bank of a trireme (i.e. an ancient Roman or Greek galley with three banks of oars), one of the slaves who pulled at the great sweeps which moved the triremes through the sea. Some commentators have wished to stress this and to make it a picture of Christ as the pilot who directs the course of the ship and Paul as the servant who accepts the pilot’s orders and labours only as his Master directs.

Then Paul uses another picture. He thinks of himself and his fellow preachers as stewards of the secrets which God desires to reveal to his own people. The steward (oikonomos) was the major domo….in charge of the whole administration of the house or the estate; (s)he controlled the staff; (s)he issued the supplies; but, however much (s)he controlled the household staff, (s)he (her)himself was still a slave where the master was concerned. Whatever be a (person’s) position in the Church, and whatever power (she or) he may yield there or whatever prestige (she or) he may enjoy, (s)he still remains the servant of Christ.1

Paul then goes on to say that his stewardship, along with that of other Church leaders is that “of God’s mysteries.” God’s mysteries are not meant to be the best-kept secret. God’s mysteries do not belong to a choice, privileged, elitist group of people. Rather, the word “mysteries” refers to the ministry of preaching the word and administering the sacraments. It also refers to the content of the word of God—i.e. the message of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and through him we receive the forgiveness of sin and the promise of abundant life and grace now, and in the future, eternal life.

As stewards of God’s mysteries, Paul says the leaders, the preachers of the Church are required to “be found trustworthy.” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it: “The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge.”

Trustworthiness is not just a given, it is most often earned. What happens when people don’t trust God’s stewards? Well, I think we’ve seen quite clearly what happens through the media coverage of all the abuse and scandals that have occurred within Christendom. When God’s stewards are not trustworthy, people are abused sexually, emotionally, physically and spiritually. This is tragic, because lack of trust kills healthy relationships, and many of those who have been abused are wounded for life, sometimes their sufferings are so devastating that they become permanently ill and are robbed of life’s blessings.

Trustworthy stewardship of resources is also important. If stewards fail to manage and administer the resources given to them with care and wisdom that can result in the destruction, loss or extinction of such resources. We have already seen this in the natural world around us—several animal species have become extinct or are now regarded as endangered species. Moreover, the failing quality of our air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in, and the water we drink are a sober testimony to the poor stewardship of natural resources.

We speak of trust in God as if that action were one-sided. But there is another side. God also places trust in us to be the ones who express God’s love. It is an honour to be trusted in this way, but what are we doing with that trust? The other day on CBC radio, I heard that we Canadians are marketing food products in a very untrustworthy, misleading way. Two examples were given. Garlic that did not originate here in Canada was labelled “a product of Canada.” Why? Because someone in Canada cut it up and placed it in a plastic bag. Apple juice was also labelled “a product of Canada,” however, the only thing that was Canadian was the water added to the concentrate. Such are the deceitful practices of the marketplace these days here in our nation. In light of these two examples, I cannot help but ask if they are merely the tip of the iceberg. Contrary to these examples we followers of Jesus are exhorted to be faithful, trustworthy stewards of what God has given us.

We hold a treasure of possibilities, gifts from God to be shared with others in the world God loves. What kind of trust is shown if we give grudgingly, if we are afraid to give more than what we think is our fair share?

There is plenty of mistrust in our world that keeps people from friendship and community with others or with God. Trust in God calls for a different way of being in the world, including a different way of sharing gifts. Gifts from God are never just for us!2 Through our giving, hope becomes real for others. I think we here at Grace are particularly blessed in this way. Our deceased brother, Art Stenby, is an inspiration to us; he was a trustworthy steward. He gave generously, as Scripture teaches us to do. God had blessed Art and, in response, Art shared with his church the generosity of God’s blessings. Now, as trustworthy stewards we are privileged to manage wisely and generously share what has been given to us in such a way as to bear witness to God’s love in Christ for us.

After Paul emphasises the importance of trust as stewards of God, he addresses the issue of judgement. He tells the Corinthians that it is not up to them to judge Paul. In fact, Paul says, he doesn’t even judge himself. Rather he leaves the judging up to the Lord. He will judge us all on the appointed judgement day and reveal things that are now in darkness—bringing into the light even the most hidden motives of our thinking, speaking and acting.

As Eugene Peterson puts it: “So don’t get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of—inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the “Well done!” of God.”

It is very tempting to judge others prematurely and unfairly. Yet when we do, in most cases we are wrong and called into judgement ourselves. Francis Gay tells the following story: I remember a minister telling about conducting a service in a church where he had not been before. Everyone was sitting towards the back of the church so before the sermon he suggested it might be better if they all moved forward.

Everyone did this except 3 people sitting together in a back pew. The minister proceeded with the sermon but couldn’t help feeling that the 3 might have followed the lead of the rest of the congregation.

However, after the service he went to the door, pausing to speak to the three as they passed. He discovered that one of them had a severe handicap who would have had a great difficulty getting to church at all but for the help of the other two.

How important it is to be sure of the facts before we make our judgements on others!3

Paul’s final emphasis concerning God’s judgement of us is an interesting one, he states with hope that after God’s judgement: “Then each one will receive commendation from God.” In other words the judgement of God will purify us like a refining fire and remove, purge us of all impurities, all sins and shortcomings, and make us right with God, worthy to receive God’s commendation, the “Well done!” declaration of God.

So, even God’s judgement is good, life-giving, and gives us hope; after we are confronted with our sins and God deals with them, we are forgiven and given God’s blessing. God in Christ has paid the price for humankind’s rebellion, sin, and evil. God wills that all be forgiven and blessed. Such judgement then is like the love and welcome of the prodigal son by his father when he returns. Praise God for his mercy and loving kindness. Amen.

 

1 Wm. Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co., Ltd., 1975), p. 36.

2 Cited from “So Much Trust!” Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies, 1994 bulletin insert. Produced by and for churches in Canada and the U.S.A.

3 F. Gay, The Friendship Book 1986, meditation for June 26.

 

 

 

 

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 2 Easter Yr A

2 Easter Yr A, 30/03/2008

Jn 20:29b-31

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

“Resurrection Faith: Thomas’ and Ours”

 

A saintly man who was a professor in a science department of a university, once was asked by a junior colleague, an agnostic, how he managed to reconcile his religious belief with his scientific knowledge. He answered in some words of another scientist, Thomas Edison: “We don’t know the millionth part of one per cent about anything. We don’t know what light is. We don’t know what gravity is. We don’t know what heat is. But we do not let our ignorance about these things deprive us of their use. 1

Belief, faith, trust…. In our gospel today, we learn of the slow awakening of belief for the apostle Thomas the doubter. I suspect that many of us here today can empathize or identify with the doubting disciple, Thomas. Ours is an age of scientific advancements, which are, without doubt, very impressive. Unfortunately, what science has taught us is that nothing is a provable fact or real unless we can examine things with our five senses; using a method of normal repeated experiments to analyze the data and draw our conclusions, based on our observations in the experiments.

In the closing verses of our gospel today, John raises for us the whole issue of believing. What do we believe? Or maybe it would be more appropriate to ask: Whom do you believe? During this season of Easter, we are confronted with the belief of the early Christians in the risen Christ. The resurrection, for those early Christians was a whole new reality, which they had never experienced before. It is, among other things a great mystery of our faith; a reality that is not easy to explain completely. If we approach the resurrection of Jesus today from a scientific worldview, we are in trouble, for the resurrection is not meant to be based on a series of repeatable experiments, observing normal data. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus is quite the contrary—it is not a normal event, rather, it is a supernatural out-of-the-ordinary; extraordinary event. That is why we cannot base our belief—or for that matter our disbelief—in the resurrection on normal scientific data, analysis, observations or conclusions. Thomas Edison was right, what we believe from a faith or religious point of view need not be understood completely before it is of use to us. Another way of putting it may be to say that where our science ends, our faith begins.

That does not mean, however, that in matters of faith we leave our minds at the door and stop using them. Not at all, there are many profound matters of our faith, which challenge our intellect a great deal. What it does mean, however, is that our faith involves a whole series of realities going beyond our intellectual, emotional, and other faculties of our five senses. There is a multidimensional aspect of our faith, which, if you like, might be called “the sixth sense;” wherein we are dealing with deep and holy mysteries.

Jesus tells Thomas and all future would-be Christians: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now likely those of us trained to approach reality from a scientific worldview will respond to Jesus by asking: “But how does one come to believe without seeing?” I would answer that question in at least two ways. First, I would say that belief, faith in Christ, God and the resurrection come to us always as a gift from God. God is free to give us this gift of believing; initially then, it is God who speaks to our lives, who reaches and touches us in our deepest places so that we are able to say: “Yes! I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in my own resurrection.” In this answer, it’s really not so much the “howness” that’s important, as it is the “whatness or thatness” of God’s gift of faith. You see, faith is always relational. It is always based on and deeply rooted in God’s relationship with us individually and collectively. God speaking to us and being present with us and for us in many and various ways—for most of us that means the Word and the sacraments; for others of us it is through prayer or Bible study; for others it might be through fellowship with others and deeds of loving-kindness; for others, it might mean something else.

That leads me into my second answer. In addition to faith and believing in God, Christ and the resurrection as a gift from God; we are called on to trust that the original eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection were telling the truth—they were not telling lies or writing nice myths and fictitious stories. To believe then in the resurrection, without seeing the risen Christ ourselves means: the eyewitnesses were telling the truth about the risen Jesus; we can trust their testimony. Here John helps us to understand this aspect of our believing and faith when he clearly states his purpose of writing his Gospel in verse 31: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, in writing his Gospel, John wishes to pass on; to communicate to future generations of readers the story of Jesus Christ as he experienced it. In this sense, we all are like John, God has given us the gift of believing and faith not to keep it bottled up inside, but to spread it, share it with others. In this sense, the words of John in these last verses of our gospel today challenge all of us by causing us to consider personal questions like: “What am I doing to be a witness for God? How good an advertisement am I for Jesus and his resurrection? Do people really know that Christ is risen by observing my words and actions every day? What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for my everyday living and overall attitude towards life?”

How blessed do you feel today to be here worshipping the risen Christ? The meaning of the resurrection is that through a variety of ways and means Jesus is present with us. We experience his resurrection and an inkling of our own resurrection each and every day. This happens when we wake up each morning and are given a new fresh day and fresh start to share his love with others. We too experience little resurrections whenever or wherever we encounter a new found hope or inspiration after we’ve been struggling with doubts or fears or failures. Christ is so much larger than our doubts, fears and failures. He is able to use them in our lives and in the lives of others to deepen our faith and believing. We experience new resurrections whenever we are given a clean bill of health after fearing that we might have some sort of fatal disease. We experience new resurrections in life whenever we are able to grow in trusting God with all of our life, not just in church on Sunday mornings. Our faith, if it is healthy is always on a journey into a deeper maturity, which helps us to grow in our experiences of and appreciation for Christ’s resurrection and the promise of ours.

Actually, faith is a response of the whole person. It is not something that one has once and for all—like a book on a shelf, a pearl in a drawer, a diploma on a wall or a license in a wallet. It is not merely a practice, a statement or a structure. It is mysteriously both God’s gift and our responsibility. We must recover and nourish it daily, in spite of our personal sins and stupidities, and in the face of the world’s arrogant self-sufficiency. 2

May we grow in our trust of the risen Christ, who is able to work miracles in us to spread the Good News of his resurrection to others.

1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1985, meditation for May 7th.

2 From: Richard A. McCormick, “Changing My Mind About the Changeable Church,” in The Christian Century, August 8-15, 1990 Vol. 107, No. 23, (Chicago:The Christian Century Foundation, 1990), p. 736.