Thursday, December 14, 2017

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the December 14, 2017 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
Advent and the “R” word

We are now in the season of Advent, the season traditionally observed as a time of preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus the Messiah.
   One way of preparing is by focusing on the “R” word—repentance. Last Sunday, Christians who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, heard the Gospel of Mark, chapter one, verses one to eight—John the baptizer’s preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John comes across as a rather eccentric wilderness prophet, dressing like I did back in my hippie days of the 1960s and early 70s, and following a rather strange diet of locusts and wild honey. However, he takes his call seriously as a second Elijah, preparing folks for the Messiah’s coming, like a broken record, wearing out the “R” word.
   What is repentance anyway, and why is it so necessary? The Bible describes repentance in several ways, including: to regret one’s mistakes and harmful thoughts, words and actions, to change one’s mind and behaviour, to turn around, to return. Repentance is necessary since whether we want to admit it or not, we are all sinners—we think and say and do things that are harmful to others, ourselves, God’s creation, and all of this can and often does cause us to drift further away from God.
   The following story is one example of what it means to repent. Some years ago, CBC’s “Fifth Estate” program aired a documentary on “the Squamish Five.” You may remember that they were a group who bombed the Litton plant, which was involved in the production of nuclear weapons. They also bombed other political targets.
   Eventually the police caught them and they were then convicted and sent to prison.
   In the interview with Juliet Caroline Belmas, she admitted that the group’s actions were wrong. She also discouraged others from following their example. Juliet Caroline Belmas’s change of heart was a public expression of repentance—realizing her sins and genuinely wishing to clean up her act. Those who sincerely repent are like Juliet; showing remorse for the sins committed, and sorry enough to quit the destructive behaviours; and helping to prevent others from making the same mistakes.
   This Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Jesus our Messiah’s coming at Christmas do you and I need to reorient, return, change our thinking and behaviours?
   May the grace of God help us so to do as we share the love and joy that Jesus gives us with the world this Christmas! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thought for today: On Faith

The Sandhills, near Sceptre, Saskatchewan
“In the realm of faith I know far more than I can believe with my finite mind. I know that a loving God will not abandon what he creates. Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Prayer of the Day/Collect for Reformation Sunday Year A

Covenant-Making God: We praise and thank you for your superabundant grace, which names and claims us, and calls us into faithful living. We thank you for the reforms and reformers of your church in the past and today. May we continue to reform that which needs reforming, that your will may be done to set free all who are enslaved; through Jesus the Messiah; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Prayer of the Day/Collect for Thanksgiving Sunday

Blessed are you, God of heaven and earth: We praise and thank you for your abundant provision of all that we need; all that we have is a gift from you. Give us generous hearts, that we may give joyfully to those who are in greatest need. Most of all, may we always thank you for the indescribable gift, yourself, Jesus; who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Funeral Sermon for Violet Boraas

Funeral Sermon for Violet Boraas, based on Ps 23 & Ps 46:1-7, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, September 13, 2017, eleven o’clock.

A wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of Bethany Meadows Oak Cottage, and child of God, Violet Borass, has left this life for her eternal home in heaven. Life will not be the same without her, and you will miss her.
   God blessed Vi with 91 years, a long, full and content life. During those years she was able to inspire many of you and pass on to you her values of enjoying life, and loving her family, especially the large family gatherings; of loving God and going to church; of making things by embroidery work and knitting; of being generous to others sharing such things as her cooking and baking; of appreciating God’s creation and being able to work in the garden, pick berries, and do some canning; and going to Bingo as often as possible.
   During Vi’s time living at Oak Cottage Bethany Meadows, she was also able to enjoy life and be content as much as possible. She liked the music with Harold’s Band; she also enjoyed attending the Sunday Church Services and Wednesday Devotions in the chapel. Even toward the end, she made the effort to come. For her age, many of our staff and the residents were quite amazed how well she could scoot around in her wheelchair. In my conversations with Vi, I experienced her as a quiet person with few words and quite soft-spoken.    
   In Psalm 23 we have a beautiful picture of the LORD our Shepherd who provides for all of our needs throughout life and who protects us even as we face the darkest valley—death itself. Listen to the promise of God’s word: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
   According to tradition, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place in Israel.
   It is a valley, or a mountain pass, that got its name from shepherds
because of it's steep sides and sheer rock walls.  But it was a pass that enabled the shepherds to lead their sheep from one mountain pasture to another. However it was a terrifying place for skittish, defenceless, fearful sheep: for in the steep cliffs on both sides of the valley there were numerous caves and rocks and crevices that were the perfect hiding place for animals of prey - and for people who meant harm to passing travellers. Sounds would echo and amplify in the valley, making it a terrifying place for sheep. The psalmist is saying that death can be a scary reality—yet, even at the most dangerous and scariest times of life we don’t have to fear because the LORD our Shepherd is with us. We are safe with Jesus. Notice the Psalm says the LORD walks through the valley with us; it is not a final destination. The LORD is with us, that is why we can walk through the valley of death. The LORD was with Vi too as she walked through her valley of death. Our Good Shepherd loves all his sheep; that’s why he leads us through death into heaven. So we take comfort in those words.
   Another picture we have of our God in Psalm 23 is that of a banquet host: You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Loving, caring, loyal wife, mother and grandmother that she was—I’m told that Vi loved to bake and to share her German dishes and prepare meals for her family and sitting down to enjoy eating them together. The picture in the psalm is that our God also loves to prepare a meal for us. The psalmist tells us that there was plenty to eat and drink at the meal. “My cup overflows” speaks of God’s generosity and abundance. Most likely Vi provided generous meals with an abundance for you too as a sign of her love and care for you. I’m sure that you found much joy and comfort at those meals in Vi’s home.
  In Psalm 46, the LORD our God the psalmist tells us is: “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Or as Martin Luther re-worded Psalm 46 in his most famous hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The confidence expressed in Psalm 46 may have been based on God’s protection of Jerusalem during the time when the powerful Assyrian army failed to capture the city around 701 B.C. More than the walls around the city, God was Jerusalem’s Mighty Fortress. Why? Because “The LORD of hosts is with us.” The LORD Immanuel—God with us. God who, in the vision of the psalmist sees a future filled with redemption of all creation when God’s kingdom will come and bring complete peace; the Shalom of God by making wars cease to the end of the earth; destroying all weapons of war.
   God was Vi’s Mighty Fortress, giving her 91 years to live a life filled with blessing upon blessing; giving her that peace which passes all understanding right up to the end. The LORD was Vi’s refuge, Vi’s fortress—protecting her from danger and harm and keeping her safe and secure. God was Vi’s Source of strength, making it possible to live a long and fruitful life. The LORD was Vi’s very present help in trouble so that when there were challenges and hardships, times of discouragement and disappointment, God was right there seeing Vi through them all, giving her the love, care and grace that she needed to endure and successfully carry on with living her life as best she could.
   So, as we remember Violet today may we too turn to the LORD our Shepherd; may we turn to God as our Refuge and Strength-our Fortress to provide for our needs; to guide us in our living; to protect us from danger, evil and harm; to give us faith to trust that whatever God gives us in life serves his purposes; to give us love and grace to share with others; to give us the hope of victory over death; that one day we too shall be reunited with our loved ones in heaven and see our LORD and Saviour face-to-face. Amen.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the August 31, 2017 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
   In both Testaments of the Bible, hospitality is viewed as an important practice among people of faith.
   For example, in Genesis chapter eighteen God appears to Abraham and Sarah in human form, along with two other strangers. The elderly couple offers hospitality to the LORD and his two companions by giving them a resting place, as well as food and drink. The LORD then promises Abraham and Sarah that they shall have a son.
   In Matthew chapter ten, Jesus teaches that whenever hospitality is offered to strangers, as well as to Jesus’ followers, prophets, and righteous persons—it is the same thing as offering hospitality to Jesus himself.
   Hospitality, especially to strangers, is highly valued among both Jews and Christians. In Hebrews chapter thirteen, the writer exhorts the faithful with these words: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
   The majority of Canadians either have family members who were at one time immigrants, or who themselves are immigrants. In the past, these immigrants relied on the hospitality of others to help them feel at home in their new land. The same is true for immigrants today.
   Earlier this year, my wife and I travelled to Norway. We were both impressed by the hospitality of Norwegians whom we met. In one case, we were in a conversation with a store clerk. We told him that we were renting a car and making a day trip to where my grandfather was raised. He was most helpful, he found Google maps and instructions and printed them off for us free of charge, and wished us well. In another case, we were visiting a museum, and a staff person told us that our tickets gave us access to all of the museums in the city. We had a great day exploring the other museums.
   As a chaplain with the Bethany Group, offering hospitality to new residents is of vital importance in contributing to their well-being and enhancing their ability to settle into their new environment.

   Rather than viewing strangers among us with suspicion or as a threat, may we come to see them as fellow human beings who, like us, are created in the image of God, and therefore respond by offering them hospitality.  They, like us, have the same needs. In offering them hospitality, we may very well be surprised at the blessings we receive, like Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors of faith.