First in a series on preaching

To be continued…

First in a series on preaching

WARNING: This is a post primarily for preachers. Readers who are not preachers most likely shall be bored beyond belief, because this is “shop-talk” about the art and craft of preaching.

Every once in a while, we preachers take a refresher course or workshop or read a book on preaching. In the old days, when I was in seminary, homiletics courses often got assigned to the more flexible professors who were willing to teach it, even though the field of homiletics was not their specialty. Although my Profs didn’t specialize in homiletics, nonetheless I am grateful to them for what they taught me in my homiletics courses. We had two professors in particular who were excellent preachers. Nowadays, professors do specialize in homiletics and the field has gained more respect in seminaries. Along with this, the field itself has evolved over the years.

 

One of the still fashionable methods of preaching is the narrative or story sermon—sometimes also described as the inductive rather than deductive sermon. Inductive preaching begins with the particular and moves to the general; whereas deductive preaching begins with the general and moves to the particular. According to homiletics specialists like Dr Fred Craddock—if I’ve understood him correctly—the narrative sermon makes preaching as much an event engaging both preacher and listeners as it is a focus on the content of the sermon.

Right now I’m reading a book that I likely should have read a couple decades ago, when it came out in the late 1980s; Homiletic: Moves and Structures by Professor David Buttrick—better late than never, I guess. This work is, among other things, an attempt to build a new homiletic from scratch on up. I’m not convinced Buttrick accomplished that—however; there is much to be learned from this volume. Buttrick presents here a phenomenology of language, wherein he studies how sermons work or form in the consciousness of a congregation. Every preacher knows that oral language is different than written language. Buttrick insists that this principle is absolutely crucial in preparing and preaching meaningful sermons. Therefore, he is full of advice on the dos and don’ts of what he calls language moves and structures in the sermon. A move is a single idea developed in the sermon consisting of a) a beginning, b) the main body of the idea, and c) a conclusion of the idea. Buttrick thinks there should be five to six moves in a sermon. The structure of a sermon concentrates on how the moves fit into and serve the whole sermon. Here then are some words of advice from Buttrick on what to avoid in preaching, which he claims are based on research, yet I find that he is short on citing the sources of his research. I’m not necessarily endorsing all of Buttrick’s don’ts here. For example, the use of very is more common in everyday conversations among people I encounter than Buttrick gives credit for.

 AVOID beginning sentences with words like: this, these, those, that, one.

Use it at beginning of a sentence only when immediately following a sentence with a firm noun, never have 2 or more it sentences in sequence. All of these result in instant erasure of consciousness.

Avoid intensifiers like very, really, just, indeed. Written they work to add emphasis, but not orally.

Avoid delaying words or phrases like: actually, we can see…, we can see, however, that…, it is clear that…, it is evident that…Such words and phrases work in written scholarly works, but not in oral sermons.

Sentences beginning with numbers like: first, let us…, in the third place, we can…, will delete from consciousness.

Thus and therefore are seldom used in ordinary conversation, so should be avoided in sermons. As should other words not used in ordinary language.

Do not over use syntactical rhythms like: repetition, doublets, and triadic clauses. Unless disciplined, they can sound through an entire sermon, so that every different idea will be cadenced in the same way. Thus, for example, sin will sound the same as grace; Christ will sound the same as evil.

 

Sermon 26 Pentecost Yr A

26 Pentecost Yr A, 9/11/2008

Josh 24:1-3a, 14-25

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Serve the LORD”

 

The company’s management team put their heads together to decide how to reduce the high employee turnover rate.

“They spend their first six or eight weeks learning our system, then they join another company,” complained one executive.

“Yes, but doesn’t that at least speak highly of our training program?” chirped an optimistic colleague.1

In today’s society, there certainly is a concern about choice and loyalty. It seems that personal interests trump loyalty for the purpose of service and the common good in all kinds of relationships whether it’s in the workplace, in school, at home, or in church. If choices are to be made, loyalty, more often than not, is viewed more as a vice than a virtue by many people these days.

Decisions, choices. It seems life is full of them. Some say we have lots of freedom to choose and relish that freedom. Yet others observe that such freedom only gets us into deeper trouble, since we fail to choose wisely, making the wrong choices. Yet others would say that we don’t really have any choices at all—why? Because someone else more powerful than us chooses for us. And still others would say that by remaining indecisive and not choosing is also actually a choice made by some people.

Dangerous Minds is based on a true story about high school teacher LouAnne Johnson (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) making a difference in the lives of troubled but smart inner-city students.

In one scene, while LouAnne is in front of the class teaching, the students are upset with her because they felt she “ratted” on three students for fighting. LouAnne asks them if they want to discuss the issue. There is no response. Fully calm and composed, she tells them if they feel so strongly about it, they should leave the classroom. No one is forcing them. They can stay or leave.

One of the students objects and tells her they don’t have a choice. “If we leave, we don’t get to graduate. If we stay, we have to put up with you.”

LouAnne tells the student that’s a choice—not one they like, but it’s a choice.

Another student angrily objects and says, “Man, you don’t understand nothing. You don’t come from where we live. You’re not bussed here. You come and live in my neighbourhood for one week, and then you come and tell me if you have a choice.”

LouAnne, with a slight tinge of anger, firmly replies, “There are a lot of people who live in your neighbourhood who choose not to get on that bus. What do they choose to do? They choose to go out and sell drugs. They choose to go out and kill people. They choose to do a lot of other things. But they choose not to get on that bus. The people who choose to get on that bus, which are you, are the people who are saying, ‘I will not carry myself down to die; when I go to my grave, my head will be high.’ That is a choice.” Then in a slightly louder and angrier tone, she says, “There are no victims in this classroom!”

The camera shows one student seriously considering her words.

Another female student says, “Why do you care anyway? You’re just here for the money.”

LouAnne quickly responds, “Because I make a choice to care, and honey, the money ain’t that good.”2

LouAnne in this movie is much like Joshua in our first lesson, who says: “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” As people of faith, we are called upon to be loyal to our LORD and his will even when the majority all around us are turning away and relying on other gods.

In a conversation I had with an elderly retired woman, she lamented over the trend today of many youngsters and their parents turning to sports as a form of religion. They will do anything to keep themselves involved in sports. They become so committed and loyal to sports that everything else takes a back seat. This elderly woman lamented too that her family members do not attend church nearly as often as they used to and as she and her husband had brought them up to do. In fact, most likely a minority of Canadians attend church on a regular basis or place their Christian faith as the most important commitment in life.

Over against this setting, our first lesson today has much to teach us. Even though we as Lutherans believe, as did the Israelites, that God has taken the initiative to choose us, not the other way round; nonetheless, like Joshua of old and the Israelite tribes, we are called upon to respond to God’s having chosen us first by also choosing to be faithful to God.

Joshua had grown old, under his faithful and wise leadership, the Israelite tribes had entered the Promised Land. They had been successful in their military campaigns against the Canaanites. The Israelites had occupied the Promised Land and the land had been allocated to the various tribes. Life was unfolding in some semblance of normalcy. However, Joshua knew as God’s faithful servant that there were dangers with this semblance of normalcy. It could cause the people to become indifferent towards the LORD and their commitment to him. It could delude them into believing that it wasn’t God who had been providing for them all along—rather, they could falsely believe that it was all their doing, their work. Moreover, unless challenged, the Israelites could put their eggs in multiple baskets by worshipping various gods associated with all of the other non-Israelite peoples around them. Their loyalties could easily be divided among the various false gods. This trend could also mushroom among the Israelite tribes if they lost their sense of identity and unity as God’s Chosen People.

Joshua is now at the end of his life. So here is his last chance to “rally the troops” so-to-speak. He calls them all together in one place, Shechem, his purpose is to renew the covenant between God and the Israelite tribes and reinforce their identity and unity. So, in very solemn speech, Joshua reminds the Israelite tribes of how God had called Abraham away from the worship of many gods in the land of his birth to the worship of the One, True God who led him to the Promised Land and multiplied his offspring.

Following this preamble, Joshua then confronts the Israelite tribes, exhorting them to all false gods from foreign lands and in reverence, sincerity and faithfulness serve the LORD their God. In other words, it was an exhortation to obey the first and greatest commandment of having no other gods beside the LORD their God. He leaves them an option: “choose this day whom you will serve” the LORD God or the false gods of their ancestors. Then, he makes it clear: “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In this call to covenant renewal, Joshua takes the initiative as God’s chosen leader to set the example before the people—even though the majority of Israelite tribes serve other false gods, Joshua was going to serve the LORD God. He was not the monkey see, monkey do kind of person. He was a true leader, setting the example rather than following an example of the majority. In this act he was in line with all of his faithful predecessor leaders—including Moses and Abraham.

The people, in response do remember the LORD their God, and recite their salvation history. They remember how God had delivered and protected and provided for them. Then they promise, answering Joshua, that: “Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Joshua, to reinforce their commitment to God further, reminds them of the tragic consequences of serving other gods—the LORD would do them harm if they were not loyal to him. Once again the Israelites respond that they would indeed serve the LORD.

Again Joshua exhorts the people in the form of them having to agree to take a solemn vow or oath that they were witnesses against themselves against themselves that they had agreed and committed themselves to the LORD, and they responded by agreeing, by taking the vow or oath, saying: “We are witnesses.”

Then, in a final recorded solemn exhortation, Joshua once again commands the Israelite tribes to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” Notice here that Joshua realises his people still have foreign gods, hence the need to abandon them completely if they are to be truly loyal to the LORD their God. Once again the people answer in the affirmative: “The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”

Following this, Joshua completes the covenant renewal ceremony by drawing up a statute and ordinance for his people.

In our faith and life journey, we too can run into dangers and temptations. There are literally millions of false gods we can choose to divide our loyalties on. We, like Joshua and the Israelites of old need to remember where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going. Jesus makes that quite clear for us in the gospels. He tells us we, like the Israelites have been delivered, protected, and provided for. We, like the Israelites have been and still are chosen by God. We have been called, loved, and forgiven. We have been assured that Jesus is still with us always. Do we take that too much for granted? Do we divide our commitments and our loyalties? Or do we, like Joshua and the Israelites say: “We will serve the LORD”? Each Sunday in a sense is a covenant renewal ceremony. We are given the opportunity to remember whose we are, who we are, where we are, where we are going and who to get there. Therefore, Joshua’s confession of faith is really one that we all can join together in: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Amen.

 

1 Bernard Burnsting, The Ultimate Guide To Good Clean Humor (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2000), p. 432.

2 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. 30-31.

 

 

All Saints Sunday Yr A

All Saints Sunday Yr A, 2/11/2008

I Jn 3:1-3

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Children of God”

 

The internet is a fascinating place to hang out. Over the years there has been a wonderful accumulation of insightful material. For example, someone posted some interesting answers to science test questions as rendered by fifth and sixth graders. One youngster described the law of gravity as saying, “No fair jumping up without coming back down.” Pretty good. Another said, “You can listen to thunder and tell how close you come to getting hit. If you don’t hear it, you got hit, so never mind.”

A couple of them responded to questions about clouds. One said, “I’m not sure how clouds are formed, but clouds know how to do it, and that’s the important thing.” Okay. Another said, “Water vapour gets together in a cloud. When it is big enough to be called a drop, it does.” One defined a monsoon as a French gentleman.

A couple more. One youngster said, “When planets run around and around in circles, we say they are orbiting. When people do it, we say they are crazy.” True. One defined the spinal column as “a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top, and you sit on the bottom.” Okay.

None of those have anything to do with the text, but this one jumped out at me because it surely does. One youngster wrote, “Genetics explains why you look like your father, and if you don’t, why you should.” In that context, this one really hits home: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are.” Is there any family resemblance? There should be.

John Chrysostom, the great preacher of the middle ages, in his sermon on how to bring up children, advises parents to give their youngster some great scriptural name, to teach over and over the story of the original bearer of the name, and thus to give a standard to live up to, and an inspiration for living, when reaching adulthood. The epistle writer says we are in the family of God so we have the responsibility of doing the family proud and not besmirching the family name.1

We are the children of God. That’s our true identity through our baptism into Christ. As the children of God we are loved beyond all telling. Like Michelangelo who would take a large chunk of marble and create a thing of lasting beauty, God puts us into his hands so that he can make something of eternal worth out of us. Each one of us is made a child of God.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” The picture John gives us here is that of God our heavenly Father adopting us as his children out of his unconditional, unlimited love. When a child is adopted they become, in every way, a member of their adopted family—especially so if the parents and other family members are loving people.

I know that was the case with a cousin of mine. He was adopted by my aunt and uncle and they truly have loved him as their very own child. He became a member of their family. I can remember too that on one occasion someone, not realising that Russell was adopted, made the comment that he looked so much like his adopted parents. I know that my cousin felt much loved by my uncle and aunt. Why do I know that? Because when the time came for him to get married, him and his wife Maureen could not have their own children. So what did they do? You guessed it; they adopted a child, a little girl from China. Moreover, they also are presently waiting to hear from the authorities in China again, because they want to adopt a second child. Obviously Russell was loved by his mom and dad. If he was not, I don’t think he would have even considered adopting children.

We too, says John, can be confident that God our heavenly Father loves us because he adopted us as his children. Along with that act of being adopted by our heavenly Father comes our true identity, children of God, which gives us so many wonderful benefits—including the enjoyment and love of one another as God’s family members of sinner-saints.

On this All Saints Sunday, what a wonderful and appropriate text we have here—our identity as children of God also reminds us, I believe, of that wonderful phrase in the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: “the communion of saints.” Essentially children of God and communion of saints are one and the same. Both refer to something very large and awesome—namely, that we are a communion, a community of God’s family that transcends time and space, race, class, gender, age, and every other difference. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

So look at your neighbour sitting beside you, in front or behind you. Do your see a family resemblance? You should! He or she is your brother or sister—a child of God, a sinner-saint, just like you. See what love the Father has given us! Yes, thank you Jesus! Amen.

 

1 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), pp. 172-173.

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.

Sermon Easter Day Yr A

Easter Day Yr A, 23/03/2008

Col 3:1-4

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Raised with Christ”

 

A grouchy husband made it into heaven along with his wife. However he was still rather glum. “What’s wrong now?” the wife asked. “Can’t you see, we’re in heaven? This is beautiful—the music is great, the food is out of this world, the mansion has everything and more we’d ever dreamt of, the golf course is the best we’ve ever seen, there’s no fees, no taxes, our health is fantastic, why aren’t you happy? What’s wrong with you?”

The husband replied, “If we hadn’t eaten that miserable oat bran, we could have been here ten years ago.”

The punch line of this joke compliments the words of our second lesson today. In this passage, the Christians at Colossae, which was a town of Phrygia in Asia Minor, close to Ephesus, were exhorted to focus on heaven. Earlier they had been told that through the entrance rite of Christianity; through the sacrament of Holy Baptism; they had died and risen with Christ. Now, continuing with that line of thought, they are instructed: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

In other words, they are to live, to act like Easter people. They are to live and act as resurrection people. This is true, because for the writer of this letter, the resurrection is something that has already been accomplished in the past, the writer reminds them and us: “you have been raised with Christ,” an action, a fact that has already occurred—not “you shall be raised with Christ” in the future. The resurrection is an accomplished action; a victory won; a fact that has now become part of Christian salvation history, says the writer of Colossians with utmost confidence.

Pastor and professor, Donald Deffner tells the following story: An atheist who served as a custodian at a seminary enjoyed baiting the young theologians. He told one who was reading a book about eternal life, “If you ask me, that’s so much hogwash. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” The student replied, “You’re right, George. When you’re dead, you’re dead.” The janitor walked away, wondering what in the world that young man was doing at a seminary. The student’s point was that hope of eternal life comes only after one has faced the reality of eternal death—which the janitor had not.1

Our second lesson reminds us that hope of eternal life comes only after we have faced the reality of eternal death. We have all done that when we were baptised. In baptism we were buried with Christ in his death and in baptism we were raised with Christ to new, resurrection life. Therefore, the writer exhorts the Colossian Christians to focus on this new reality of resurrection. Resurrection, says the writer, is to be the Christian’s entire orientation in life. Resurrection is the key, the guide, the reason for living life now in this world. Resurrection is the Christian’s life focus. What does that mean? Does it mean that we’re so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good? No, not at all! That is to misunderstand the message of our passage. Rather, it is to live life on earth in light of the reality, the accomplished fact that Christ, through his death and resurrection has won the victory for us and for everyone—that is why he is now “seated at the right hand of God.” This picture of Christ being exalted, by sitting at God’s right hand is a Jewish concept of future reward in heaven; it is giving Christ the ultimate honour as the Messiah. It reminds one of a winner, victor after a great battle. Christ is the Victor, Christ is the Winner, and Christ is the Ultimate Conqueror. Hence militant Easter hymns like “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done,” and “Thine Is the Glory” are most appropriate as we celebrate the truth of Easter Sunday and the power of the resurrection. Christ has defeated the powers of sin, death and evil. If that is true, says our second lesson, then the way we live as Christians each day points to that reality of the resurrection.

One of our magazines carried a cartoon of a pastor addressing an overflow congregation on Easter Sunday and asking, “Are you not just a little curious as to what goes on here between Easters?” Regardless of the motivation, what does Easter mean to you? Or rather, what does Christ mean to you? Do you reckon him a notable historical personage like Socrates, Buddha, Gandhi? Do you reverence him as the sublimest ethical teacher of all time? Or do you believe that he overcame the sharpness of death, that is to say, he is not only the Jesus of history but the Jesus of experience, alive and at work in the world here and now? If you incline to shy away from that last question, dismissing it perhaps as sheer mysticism, take another look at the facts. Christianity is something more than hero-worship. It is not just the perpetuation of a great memory. It is a relationship to and a fellowship with a Christ who is “alive for evermore.” Everything in Christianity depends on the reality of the resurrection of Christ, on the fact that he rose from the grave, appeared to his disciples, made his presence felt in their lives, and still makes his presence felt, is in our generation as great an actuality as he was to his first followers.

“Shall I tell you,” David Livingstone asked the students of Glasgow University on his return from sixteen years spent in Africa, “what sustained me amidst the toil and hardship, and loneliness of my exiled life? It was the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.’” For multitudes this is life’s most precious conviction. When they speak about Christ, they use not only the past and future tenses but the present tense as well. “Lo, I am with you always.” That is the heartwarming, heart-gladdening fact we celebrate this morning.2

For us Christians, our ultimate security; our eternal home; our most healthy state of being is in heaven with God in Christ. That does not mean we are so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Rather, that means living in light of the fact of our baptismal inheritance and covenant. That means living in light of the fact that, as our second lesson reminds us we: “have been raised with Christ.” This is an accomplished fact that shapes all of our history, personally and collectively. In light of this fact, our life on earth can bring resurrection where there is death; hope to the hopeless; love to the loveless. In the face of all sufferings and failures—there is healing and ultimate victory thanks to our risen Saviour Jesus Christ. Yes, we “have been raised with Christ!” Alleluia! Amen.

 

1 Donald L. Deffner, Sermons for Church Year Festivals (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), p. 68.

2 Robert J. McCracken, “The Inevitableness of Easter,” in: Paul H. Sherry, Editor, The Riverside Preachers: Fosdick McCracken Campbell Coffin (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1978), pp. 99-100.

 

 

Sermon Palm/Passion Sunday Yr A

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

Matt 26:36-46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Gethsemane”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sermon 3 Lent Yr A

3 Lent Yr A, 24/02/2008

Jn 4:5-42

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Jesus and the Samaritan Woman”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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