Reformation Day

Tomorrow-October 31-is officially Reformation Day among Lutherans and other Christians around the globe. In some places, it is now a statutory holiday. Reformation Day is no longer monopolized by us Lutherans; now it is a day to celebrate the progress made, by God’s grace, toward Christian unity. So as we sing the famous hymn attributed to Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” may we sing with all of the diversity in unity and unity in diversity that makes for a richer, fuller faith and life for all.

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Together in Christ: Lutherans & Catholics Commemorate the Reformation

As both Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and perhaps some of the other denominations of Christendom celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, there are several events and projects that have been undertaken, and/or will come into fruition. Below is the first introductory video by Lutheran pastor and professor, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson. The series of videos are titled: “Together in Christ: Lutherans and Catholics Commemorate the Reformation, 2017.

Around the Lutheran Blogosphere


Professor Kirby Olson reflects among other things, on the leadership of Moses and Dirk Nowitzki over at Lutheran Surrealism.
Over at Sundries, listen to this Pentecost hymn:“Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist/We now implore the Holy Ghost.
On The Fritz reflects on the Holy Spirit and the hymns of Luther and Hildegard of Bingen and a quote from John Masefield here.
The Rev. Joelle Colville-Hanson muses about a polka mass on Pentecost Sunday here.
Read Pastor Kevin Powell’s book review of The Irresistible Church here.

Gleanings from the Lutheran blogosphere

Periodically, I like to surf the world-wide-web and discover what is going on in the Lutheran blogosphere. Here ae a few blogs that you might wish to visit:

At the What If? Blog, a post on talking about Jesus in a domestic dispute:  http://abtrenewal.wordpress.com/ 

 At Glosses From An Old Manse blog, a reflection on whether or not ‘settled science’ is an oxymoron: http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com/

At Ben Unseth’s Red-Letter Ideas blog, Ben reflects on the impact of his recently-deceased, 92-year-old friend who was an insightful physicist and faithful follower of Jesus: http://benjaminunseth.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/jim-the-visioneer/

At Simul Iustus et Peccator, read the book review of The Resurrection of Jesus-Part 3:

http://simuliustusetpeccator.com/

At Faith in Community, read about a Lenten monologue series named after the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: http://faithincommunity.blogspot.com/ 

At Pastor Dan’s Grace Notes, there are worship helps for Transfiguration Sunday:

http://www.coslcgrace.blogspot.com/

At Lutheran Confessions, ponder five creative suggestions for your Lenten prayer life:

http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2011/03/seeking-shape-for-your-lenten-prayer.html

Bonhoeffer on the Incarnation

Bonhoeffer on the Incarnation

Opening up an old book, written by Lutheran theologian, pastor and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (p. 341), reminded me again of Jesus’ love for each one of us and his solidarity with humankind as the Incarnate One, and through him, our solidarity with the whole human race too—a rather countercultural perspective, given our very divided, hostile, war-driven, individualistic, consumer-oriented world.

And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men [and women] is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race.

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;.