Thursday, October 13, 2016

Clergy Comment Article

Here is my article published in the October 13, 2016 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
Give thanks in all circumstances
Last weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving. The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, exhorted them to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). With all of the troubles, tragedies, and suffering in the world, how do we give thanks in all circumstances?
One of my favourite thanksgiving stories provides some inspiration in that direction.
   Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648. As the story goes, he was the only surviving clergyperson in 1636 or 1637, when a major pestilence afflicted the town which was so crowded with refugees and so ravaged with plague, disease, and famine that sometimes as many as 50 funerals were held in one day. Among those buried that year was Rinkhart’s own beloved wife.
   Yet, in the midst of such difficult circumstances Pastor Rinkhart wrote the beautiful hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.” According to one tradition, Rinkhart based this hymn on Sirach 50:22: “Now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders.” Another tradition suggests that it was originally written as a table grace for his family. In any case, the hymn was well received in Germany and has been sung on such special occasions as the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the completion of the Cologne cathedral.
   Although Rinkhart had suffered much and his family, friends, parishioners and townspeople had suffered much, he was still able to offer God his thanks and praise.
   We too, like Pastor Martin Rinkhart, have many things to be thankful for: everything from the blessings of being in a loving, grace-filled, forgiving relationship with our God and with others, to our church through our baptism into Christ, to life itself, to our health, to family, friends, neighbours, to a free, democratic country, to God’s abundant provision of all our basic needs and much, much more.
   As an exercise in thanksgiving, you may either individually or as a family wish to write down a list from A to Z, of all the blessings God has given each of you and then prayerfully offer your praise and thanks. You may even consider doing this each day or week or month, rather than only once a year at Thanksgiving. This exercise may also motivate you to pursue moving your thanking into acts of loving-kindness in response to what God has given you.
   Those two words, Thank You, can make so much difference in so many ways!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Funeral Sermon for Paul McCann

Funeral Sermon for Paul Gerard McCann, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Ps 23; Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 11:21-27, /Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, September 17, 2016, ten o’clock.

A loving husband and father, brother, son, friend, neighbour, and child of God—Paul Gerard McCann, has passed from this life into life eternal. You, who knew and loved Paul dearly, shall certainly miss him. 
   For Paul and you, his family members, the last several years have been challenging. Alzheimer’s and dementia can be a cruel disease. A person who is struck with Alzheimer’s and dementia suffers from both physical and mental losses. Family members can feel rather helpless at times as they see their loved one suffering from these losses. Family members observe how their loved one changes as Alzheimer’s or dementia takes its course and robs them of their faculties; so they no longer are the person that they once were. They can forget so much, even the names of their family members as well as their own name. Past memories of their family history and their own life story disappear. The mind becomes more and more like fog, unable to think clearly. 
   They also lose their ability to talk and walk, and even eating and drinking can become a challenge. They can become totally dependent on others.  When death does come, it may be mixed with both sadness and a sense of relief. Sadness because you certainly shall miss your beloved Paul and your life will not be the same without him. Relief because now your Paul’s suffering is over. Relief also for those who place their faith in God—trusting that Paul is now in the loving, eternal presence of God.
   That is our hope for Paul. As a people of faith with trust in those wonderful words of the twenty-third Psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” Notice that death is not a permanent existence. Rather, God our loving Shepherd walks us through death’s valley, we don’t stay in that valley of death forever. As a people of faith, we don’t have to be afraid of death because God our Shepherd is with us. If God is with us, then we can face anything in life, including death.
   So it is that we can affirm the truth of Ecclesiastes chapter three (which we heard sung by the Byrds). You see, the way that God puts order in our lives is through time. God is a God of order and not chaos. That is why God created a time for everything and everyone in life. There are stages of life that each one of us lives through.
   That is why for Paul there was a time to be born. For Paul there was a time for him to be a child, then a time to grow into a teenager, and from there a time to become an adult. There was a time for Paul to go to school, a time to leave school and go to work, and a time to meet and marry his wife Sandra. For Paul and for Sandy, there was a time to have children, Sean and Melanie, and a time to raise them. There were many times for Paul, Sandy and the children to enjoy each other’s company—to do things together. For Paul there was a time to support, be involved with, and encourage both Melanie and Sean in their various activities. For Paul there were many times to show his love for Sandy and the children, because family was important to him. Paul also spent time smiling at others and being kind and friendly towards them and offering to help them. In the words of faith, that is what we call spending time to love our neighbour, and in loving our neighbour we love God, because as one wise person of faith once said, God is as close as your neighbour. As time passed, there was a time for Paul to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, a time to suffer, and a time to leave this life—which leads us to another truth of our faith that takes us beyond time, beyond death, into eternity.
   In our beautiful passage of John’s Gospel, that’s where we are taken, when Jesus speaks those words of promise to Martha who is sad and mourning the death of her brother Lazarus. Jesus surprises Martha with those wonderful words of promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” WOW! What a promise that is! A promise that is yours and mine through faith, thanks to the saving work of Jesus on the cross and through his resurrection. Do you believe this? I know I do, thanks to Jesus who gives me the gift of faith to believe it. I hope and pray that you do too.     
   So, for Paul Alzheimer’s disease is not the last word, nor does it have the ultimate victory over Paul. No! Rather, thanks be to God that Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection have ultimately defeated Alzheimer’s disease and all other powers that work against God.  
   For Paul, there is a final victory over Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to Jesus who is the resurrection and the life, there is Life with a capital L, eternal life, abundant life for Paul now, thanks to the LORD his suffering is over. That is Paul’s hope! That is your hope and mine! Amen.   

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Electoral Reform in Canada

Many Canadians today believe that a “first-past-the-post” electoral system has outlived its usefulness. So with that in mind a non-partisan peoples’ movement came to birth, called Fair Vote Canada. This past summer the federal government formed a Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform. There have been town-hall meetings across the country to find out what Canadians want in terms of electoral reform.
   The following brief by Fair Vote Canada was presented to the Special Committee, advocating for some form of proportional representation electoral system. They present three possible options. You can read their brief here

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Maud Lewis: A world without shadows

The following documentary is of a largely unknown Nova Scotia artist, Maud Lewis. It is the work of the National Film Board of Canada. I like the way the film portrays Maud’s simple life in a very small house in rural Nova Scotia. It harkens back to a bygone era, a time when life moved slower.
   Maud never took art classes, she was self-trained, and painted the world around her—i.e. no further than 60 miles in each direction. Her paintings are filled with light and life, her colours are bright and beautiful—illustrating the love and peace, hope and contentment of life. The song is okay too. Enjoy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Clergy Comment Article

Here is my article published in the August 4, 2016 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
In Romans chapter twelve, the apostle Paul reminds Christians in Rome and us that teaching and action, faith and life go hand-in-hand. A living faith, according to the apostle Paul, is real and true when it is practiced. Paul here is bursting with advice on how to live and practice our faith. He has included material in this passage reminiscent of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, along with quotes from Deuteronomy and Proverbs.
   With the mass media dominated by news reports of evil and violence, the apostle Paul’s words are as pertinent today as they were in his day. He teaches us in verse nine to “hate what is evil.” In verse fourteen he counsels us to “Bless those who persecute you…do not curse them.” He continues with this message in verse seventeen by saying: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” Paul shifts the message slightly in verse nineteen when he allows for God’s wrath and vengeance: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written,”—then he quotes Deut 32:35—“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
   In verse twenty, Paul counsels us to offer hospitality to our enemies, and quotes from Proverbs 25:21-22: “No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Scholars have wondered about this reference to burning coals and have offered a couple of comments. Martin Luther thought that it meant the enemies would regret what they had done when they received such hospitality. Another scholar, Roy Harrisville, has pointed out that there is an Egyptian tradition of placing coals of fire on one’s head as a rite of penitence. In verse twenty-one of this passage, Paul continues with his previous train of thought, emphasising doing good in the face of evil: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
   I think most of us struggle to overcome evil with good, and we find it difficult to love our enemies. Yet, such endeavours can and do make a huge difference. Paul himself is one example—after his Damascus road encounter with Jesus, he was transformed from being an enemy of Christians into being one of Christianity’s most articulate preachers, missionaries and theologians. Mother Teresa, speaking of her work, once said: “It’s only a drop in the ocean—but the ocean wouldn’t be the same without that drop.” So too, Christians together doing good can, by God’s grace, overcome evil and transform enemies into friends.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Remembering Elie Wiesel

10 Quotes by Elie Wiesel, may his life, memory, and legacy be a blessing to everyone. May God grant him shalom eternal.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
   “For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”
   “When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity.”
   “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. And anyone who does not remember betrays them again.”
   “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
   “Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone - and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.”
   “I was very, very religious. And of course I wrote about it in 'Night.' I questioned God's silence. So I questioned. I don't have an answer for that. Does it mean that I stopped having faith? No. I have faith, but I question it.”
   “Now, when I hear that Christians are getting together in order to defend the people of Israel, of course it brings joy to my heart. And it simply says, look, people have learned from history.”
   “For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share.”

   “I wanted to write a commentary on the Bible, to write about the Talmud, about celebration, about the great eternal subjects: love and happiness.”