Saturday, November 3, 2018

Brief Graveside Sermon for Jean Braim

Brief graveside sermon for Jean Velma Braim, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Isa 40:31 & Jn 14:1-6, on November 3, 2018, Camrose Cemetery.
As I mentioned earlier, one of Jean’s favourite Bible passages was Isaiah 40:31. What a beautiful passage this is too! The prophet who wrote it was living in Babylonian exile along with his people. The people of Judah and Jerusalem living in that strange land were likely rather discouraged and feeling weak, weary and faint. In that situation, God inspired the prophet to speak these words of encouragement and hope.
   Notice that the prophet starts off saying: “Those who wait for the LORD.” Much of life involves waiting. Jean had to do her share of waiting too. She had to wait for all of the blessings that the LORD gave her—blessings such as a loving husband in Bryan, all six of you children, eighteen grandchildren, and forty great grandchildren. Jean had to wait on the LORD throughout her life in various circumstances, good times and more challenging times, times during the last days of her life when she had grown weak, faint and weary. Such times are difficult, yet Jean waited for the LORD then too, because she knew that he would come and bless her. He would come and take her to himself in heaven. Now her waiting is over.
   Throughout Jean’s life she waited on the LORD for compassion to love her husband, and you her family members. She waited on the LORD in order that she could be a person of faith. Jean was faithful to her husband, and you her family members. Her focus in life was on servanthood. She served you and others in the community. She served by putting her gifts of sewing, gardening and crafts to work. She served by being involved in the United Church Women’s group. She served along with Bryan to deliver Meals on Wheels for shut-ins. She served as a volunteer in the hospital. She served as a caregiver for her siblings when they were sick by sitting with them. Jean, by waiting on the LORD found that he renewed her strength, as if she were mounting on eagle’s wings. She waited for the LORD’s strength during times when she was weak, weary and faint. In so doing, she set a fine example of faithfulness and compassion for each of you too. You and I, all of us here today, need to follow that example—to wait on the LORD for strength in all the circumstances that we encounter as we journey through life.
   One of the most beautiful word pictures that the prophet gives us in this passage is that of the wings of eagles. Have you ever seen an eagle with its wings spread out in flight? Recently I was blessed to see a beautiful eagle flying right above me with its outstretched wings. Wow! It took my breath away when I observed how powerful and graceful those wings were as they caught the air currents in flight.
   So the wings of eagles are a beautiful symbol of God’s power, God’s protection, and just as the eagle is free when it flies so gracefully, we too are set free by our God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—which brings us to the Good News from John’s Gospel.
   The words of Jesus are also wonderful words of life! His words bring us comfort and hope in times of sadness. The comfort and hope that Jesus has gone ahead of us into heaven to prepare a dwelling place for us. He will come again to take us to our eternal dwelling place.

   Jean is now in that dwelling place, my guess is that she may very well be singing there too. One of Jean’s favourite things to do at Bethany Meadows was to participate in my cottage Hymn-Sings. She just loved them! Jean found much joy and comfort in music throughout her life. In her early years, she and her sister made a 45 record. She also played the guitar and sang in choirs. Music is also one of God’s gifts. Now I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she is singing away in the heavenly choir!  

Friday, August 24, 2018

Brief Book Review: One Who Believed True Stories of Faith

One Who Believed: True Stories of Faith
Author: Robert B Pamplin, Jr.
Publisher: Newberg, Oregon: Christ Community Church
213 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The author of this volume, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. is a pastor, businessman, and farmer. He has written a number of books, and has earned eight degrees.
   In the introduction, he states the purpose of this work: “These mini-biographies dramatically describe the life of practicing Christians, living and deceased, and the impact faith had on their lives. Many of the subjects were—or are—prominent individuals whose accomplishments have made them of interest as a story. Others are individuals who may not be well known, yet their story is remarkable.” (p. 3)
   The volume consists of sixty mini-biographies of Christians from a wide range of backgrounds, denominations, nationalities, etc. Two of my favourites are Corrie ten Boom and Johann Sebastian Bach. Dr. Pamplin notes that the ten Booms hid persecuted Jews during World War II, and were sent to a concentration camp where both Corrie’s dad and sister died. It was Corrie’s faith that kept her going: “The ground upon which I build my faith is not in me, but is in the faithfulness of God.” (p. 63) Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest composers of all time. He was a devout Lutheran, and dedicated much of his life’s work to improving church music with his compositions for organ, choir and congregational singing. Of course his St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion bear witness to Bach’s deep faith in Christ, “…works considered by some to be the most marvelous masterpieces ever written.” (p. 176)
   This volume is an easy read, and would most likely inspire Christians of all ages, and perhaps be of interest to some non-Christians as well.

   At the end of the work, there is a Credits section, listing over fifty sources upon which the mini-biographies were based—material worth consulting for further reading.     

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Brief Book Review: Notes From Underground

Notes From Underground
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Publisher: New York: Vintage Classics, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
130 pages, plus Forward and Notes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

First of all, I shall preface my review by stating that I have read other Dostoevsky novels and appreciated them immensely—especially The Brothers Karamazov. However, Notes From Underground, I regret to say, is not in that category.
   I do not doubt Dostoevsky’s genius as a writer, and his knowledge of the works of other Russian and European novelists, poets, and philosophers—several of whom he makes reference to in Notes From Underground.  
   Dostoevsky begins by informing his readers that there are two parts to his work, an introduction to the main (unnamed) character, and the character’s notes. Dostoevsky claims the work is fiction, yet this reviewer thinks at least some of it is biographical.
   So who is this character, hero, or more likely anti-hero? He begins by describing himself as ‘sick,’ ‘wicked,’ and ‘unattractive.’ He goes on to say: “I’m forty now. I used to be in the civil service, I no longer am. I was a wicked official. I was rude, and took pleasure in it.” (p. 4) Then he suggests he is the opposite of all that, and ends up being what sounds to this reviewer like a nihilist: “…no, I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect.” (p. 5)
   Most of the novel dwells on his existential self-centredness. He comes across as being so self-absorbed that he is unable to understand, show empathy and compassion for other human beings. He is up and down and all around: one moment totally obsessed with his own thoughts, emotions and motives, the next moment filled with suspicions and criticisms of everyone. In the depths of his being, he is so conflicted, confused, and disturbed that nearly everything he actually does turns out sour and alienates himself from everyone else.  

   Having said that, there are some paradoxes in the novel, which ring true for readers. This is my favourite, since I think Dostoevsky may be alluding to the suffering of Jesus and his call to all would-be disciples to bear their cross if they are to follow him: “And in fact I’m now asking an idle question of my own: which is better—cheap happiness, or lofty suffering? Well, which is better?” (p. 128) Be that as it may, six out of ten stars.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Clergy Comment column

Here is my article published in the August 2, 2018 Camrose Canadian Clergy Comment column. PLEASE NOTE: This is my last Clergy Comment column, since sadly, the Camrose Canadian will publish its last issue next Thursday, August 9, 2018. L
   Justice. It’s been said that justice is not for just us, which reminds me of the song “Justice” by Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn: “Everybody loves to see justice done on somebody else.” If justice is only for just us, then the question arises does everybody else live with injustice? Bruce Cockburn’s lyrics may have the nuance of dreading justice because it might involve something we don’t want.
   What is justice? Can we live without it? If we observe and analyze the news from around the world, it appears that there are far too many nations that justice is denied to way too many people.
   According to biblical scholars, the Hebrew word tsedeq is mentioned some 119 times; and the feminine form tsedaqah is mentioned some 159 times in the Old Testament. The two words have a variety of meanings: moral uprightness, righteousness, holiness, honesty, integrity, legal rights, good government, fairness, equality-including economic equality, innocence, prosperity and salvation. In the New Testament, the Greek word dikaiosune is mentioned some 92 times. It has a similar meaning as the Old Testament words.
   There are, of course, at least two kinds of justice. God’s justice, which reflects God’s nature, and is usually impartial, all-inclusive, and very concerned about the poor and vulnerable, widows, orphans, and foreigners. Human justice, at its best, endeavours to strive for a justice that reflects God’s justice, however it shall always be influenced by our sinful condition and hence be imperfect, proximate, and provisional—determined by socio-economic-political and ideological agendas. 
   As a people of faith, in response to God’s grace, and the just ways that God and other humans have treated us, we are given our mission: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
   Justice is not for just us, it is for everyone. It involves the practical living out of our lives with compassion towards all; seeing every human being as a brother and a sister created in the image of God.