Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the February 16, 2017 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
We human beings mark the passing of time and seasons with calendars. In the life of Christians, some churches follow a liturgical calendar year. In Western Christendom, we are now well into the season of Epiphany. Epiphany often spans anywhere from six to nine weeks, depending on the date of Easter, which is a moveable festival.
   The word Epiphany comes from the Greek and means, “to show, to reveal, to make manifest.” Four of the classic, Epiphany New Testament texts that highlight the showing, revealing, and making Jesus manifest are: the magi visitation (Matthew 2:1-12); Jesus’ Baptism (Mark 1:9-11); the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11); and the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36).
   The magi, who were Gentiles, underscore God calling and extending his grace to all nations. Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration emphasize his divinity, and the description of the Transfigured Jesus is similar to the Resurrected Jesus. The turning of water into wine at Cana symbolizes the Church’s two sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The sign at Cana reminds us that Jesus comes to bring us joy and the abundant life.
   Another Epiphany theme is light. Jesus, speaking of himself said: “I am the light of the world.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is: “The true light, which enlightens everyone.”
   Light shows, reveals, makes manifest what the darkness distorts or hides. This is true in many areas of life.
   For example, it is interesting that the symbol of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, Amnesty International, is a lit candle, which is surrounded by barbed wire. The barbed wire is symbolic of injustice and evil forces. In a lot of cases, the injustice and evil is related to tyrannical nations, which arrest, imprison and torture innocent citizens—usually based on false, trumped-up charges and lies. The candle’s flame is symbolic of hope and truth as forces within each person who speaks out; serving as an advocate, by writing letters and contacting the powers-that-be—by defending human rights around the world.
   In this way, we as Christians can be a light in the darkness of the world. Our letters of encouragement to prisoners and letters of appeal to leaders can and do make a difference. Many innocent people have been freed from prison and were given a new hope-filled beginning in life because of the letters and appeals of others letting their lights shine.
   So, the season of Epiphany is a reminder that, in the words of the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the December 22, 2016 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column.
The greatest Christmas gift
In our part of the world, giving gifts at Christmastime is a big deal. Businesses love it, since it gives a boost to the economy—especially when some folks get so caught up in consumerism that it may take them many months after Christmas to pay off their gifts.
   Although some may lament the secularism and materialism of the season; one thing that always causes me to ponder is the piped-in music of Christmas carols in the stores. I wonder if the gospel message of Christmas through these piped-in Christmas carols actually does reach the hearts, minds and lives of some frantic shoppers.
   That too causes me to ponder God’s greatest gift to humankind, Jesus. The word becoming flesh, pitching his tent and dwelling among us. The same Jesus who went into unexpected places in the world; befriending men, women and children whom other religious folk would not even think of going near. Jesus who loved and accepted the outcasts of his day; the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, a woman almost ready to be stoned to death because of the sin of adultery, and yes, even tax collectors who were regarded as betrayers of their fellow citizens and colluders with the occupying Roman authorities.
   Maybe we should be grateful for the piped-in music of Christmas carols in stores; as shoppers frantically buy their gifts they hear the gospel message of Jesus’s birth, God’s greatest gift.
   When I think back to Christmases past, I recall as a young boy I would go into a small corner store with my parents to purchase a few items. Each Christmas the storeowner, who loved children, would often delight in giving me some candy along with a Mandarin orange. Nothing seemed to make him happier than the opportunity to give this small gift to the children who came into his store. The joyful generosity of that storeowner made an impression on me and many other children.

   This Christmas, instead of giving or in addition to giving your loved ones gifts, I encourage you to give a gift to the poor and all-too-often forgotten ones in the world. There are many charities doing excellent work with the world’s poor and forgotten in our city, province, country and globally. One organization I would highly recommend is Canadian Lutheran World Relief, to learn more visit their website at the following address:  In response to Jesus our greatest gift may you be inspired to give with joy and peace, hope and love not only at Christmastime, but every day of the year.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Review: Best Advice for Preaching

Best Advice for Preaching
Author: Edited by John S. McClure
Publisher: Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998
170 pages, ISBN 0-8006-2997-3, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

For starters, a confession: I’ve been rather tardy in reading this work and reviewing it, even though it has sat on my bookshelf for several years now.
   This volume, edited by Professor John S. McClure, is a compendium on the art and craft of preaching in the late twentieth century North American context, from an ecumenical perspective. The contributors are clergy and professors from most of the mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations. Altogether, there are twenty-seven contributors.
   The book has a well-organized structure, consisting of a preface, and ten chapters. The chapter titles are as follows: 1. The Calling of the Preacher; 2. Getting a Message; 3. Patterns in Sermons; 4. Collecting Supportive Material; 5. Organizing Material; 6. Polishing the Sermon; 7. What to Do while Preaching; 8. Coordinating with the Rest of the Service; 9. Feedback; 10. Essential Resources for Preaching. Each chapter was organized by a homiletician, begins with a brief introduction, followed by the following sections: Goals, Instructions, Things Encouraged And Discouraged, Best Answers to Questions, Conclusion, and Bibliography. Some of these chapter sections may also have sub-sections.
   Even though one contributor organized the chapters, there are an abundance of quotations from other professors and clergy in each chapter. Readers will find themselves inspired and most likely even provoked by these quotations; which may well lead preachers to further dialogue, debate, study and practice.
   Here are three examples of quotations cited: In chapter three, Patterns in Sermons, organized by Professor Thomas G. Long, he cites the following quotation from William Sloane Coffin: “It is a good idea to keep making fresh what is familiar. For example, preach a series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Sunday liturgy, or the Twenty-Third Psalm.” (p. 49)
   Chapter five, Organizing Material, organized by Professor John S. McClure cites the following quotation from Barbara Lundblad: “I encourage preachers to be guided by the form of the Scripture itself. Scripture offers at least the following shapes: visual images, narratives, parables, letters, prayers, songs, conversations, laments, teachings, oracles, visions, and more.” (p. 70)
   The catchy title of chapter seven, What to Do while Preaching, organized by Professor Mitties McDonald de Champlain, cites the following quotation from Fred Craddock: “Once the sermon begins, the total self becomes servant of that message—the voice, the face, the hands, the mind, the emotions, the imagination. All one is and has is burned as fuel in the preaching. One is aware of everything and of nothing. The message is delivered by re-experiencing it in public, and when it is finished, one is both exhausted and exhilarated.” (p. 115)
   After reading the final chapter, Essential Resources for Preaching, organized by Professor Thomas E. Ridenhour—I realized how dated this volume is. Although Professor Ridenhour offers some excellent resources for preaching, nonetheless since 1998, when this work was published, there has come into the forefront a wealth of resource material for preaching on the Internet—none of which the author cites in this chapter.
   In conclusion, I do recommend this volume, with the qualifier that it needs to be remembered there are limitations for contemporary preachers insofar as the work omits significant resources widely available online.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Brief thoughts on turning 65

Tomorrow, I’ll turn sixty-five years old, that makes me an official senior citizen. As I reflect on turning sixty-five, the first thought that enters my mind is Ecclesiastes chapter three, verse one: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Over and again I’ve found this to be a truth in my life. As the years and decades go by, I think there were certain things that one could and could not do unique to each year and each decade. For example, I could not read Luther’s Works at age one or during the first decade of my life. Nor can I run as fast and far today at age sixty-five as I could when I was twenty-five. The way that God orders and structures life affirms this truth.
   Of course one can reflect on the aging process in a number of ways. There is the physical factor: The mind and body both age. Even though we don’t like to admit it, there are ‘senior moments’ of forgetfulness: for example, the ease with which we once remembered the names of other people now requires more intentional effort and can be rather frustrating and embarrassing at times. The body develops more aches and pains, and some parts don’t function as well as they did even five or ten years ago. At this age we are more aware of our mortality, as many of us have lost close friends or relatives around the same age as ourselves.
   There is the socio-economic factor: By this age, one may look forward to spending more time with friends, neighbours and family; enjoying travelling and hobbies; and contributing to the well being of the community perhaps by volunteering for one or more organisations. From an economic standpoint, many will retire at sixty-five; whereas a growing number of people in our society realize, for various reasons, that they’re not ready to retire at sixty-five and work one or more years longer. There is no ‘magic formula’ to help folks when is the best time to retire. Some will have to retire due to illnesses. Others may have to work longer than they wish because of their financial situation. Yet others may wish to work longer but their workplace does not give them that choice.
   There is the spiritual factor: In our society personal identity and meaning is closely linked with work—we are who we are because of what we do. We are more often seen as ‘human doings’ than ‘human beings.’ From a faith perspective, the opposite is true. We are created in God’s image—that’s our true identity, and that is what gives life meaning. Moreover in relationship with God, it is what God through Jesus has done for us rather than what we have done for God that ultimately matters. We are justified by God’s grace through faith, which is a gift from God—not by anything that we do, even though what we do may be viewed as quite significant by worldly standards. As one grows older, hopefully one becomes more conscious and appreciative of one’s need of God’s grace.
     The French writer, Jules Renard, said: “It is not how old you are, but how you are old.” My hope and prayer is that I may grow old gracefully, not be a burden on others, and make some contributions—however small—to the well being of the church and society.