Friday, March 13, 2020

LWF Intercessory Prayer

The Lutheran World Federation has prepared the following intercessory prayer in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Readers can also access it at the following link:

Intercessory Prayer in the midst of the spread of COVID-19

O God our Healer, show your compassion for the whole human family that is in turmoil and burdened with illness and with fear. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Come to our aid as the coronavirus spreads globally, heal those who are sick, support and protect their families and friends from being infected. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Grant us your spirit of love and self-discipline so that we may come together, working to control and eliminate the coronavirus. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Make us vigilant, attentive, and proactive in the eradication of all diseases, malaria, dengue, HIV & AIDS, and others [may benamed out-loud or in silence]... that create suffering and often result in death for many people. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Heal our self-centeredness and indifference that makes us worry only when the virus threatens us, open ways beyond timidity and fear that too easily ignore our neighbor. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Strengthen and encourage those in public health services and in the medical profession: care-givers, nurses, attendants, doctors, all who commit themselves to caring for the sick and their families. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer. Inspire, give insight and hope to all researchers focused on developing a vaccine. Hear our cry, O God,Listen to our prayer.
Sustain all workers and business owners who suffer loss of livelihood due to shut-downs, quarantines, closed borders, and other restrictions... protect and guard all those who must travel. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer. Guide the leaders of the nations that they speak the truth, halt the spread of misinformation and act with justice so that all your family may know healing. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer. 
Heal our world, heal our bodies, strengthen our hearts and our minds, and in the midst of turmoil, give us hope and peace. Hear our cry, O God, Listen to our prayer.
Hold in your gentle embrace all who have died and who will die this day. Comfort their loved ones in their despair. Hear our cry, O God,Listen to our prayer. Remember all your family, the entire human race, and all your creation, in your love. Amen!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Funeral Sermon for John Bergstrom

Funeral Sermon for John Robert Albin Bergstrom, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-6, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Zion Lutheran Church, Bashaw, February 12, 2020, at one o’clock.

We are gathered here today to remember John Robert Albin Bergstrom; to mourn his loss; to support one another; and to give thanks for his life as well as commend him into God’s care.
    As I met with family members earlier this week to plan this Service, they chose our two Scripture readings from the twenty-third Psalm and John chapter fourteen.
    In Psalm 23, we find some very comforting words. Indeed, this psalm contains some of the most comforting words in the Bible—and I think that’s why so many people choose it to be read at Services like this one. God is pictured as a Good Shepherd, who knows, loves and cares for his sheep in every way. God is our provider of life and all of our needs; and God is like a shepherd bringing us comfort in times of suffering and trouble.
    As the family spoke of John’s life, one of the qualities that they mentioned was his strong work ethic, which gave him a passion for his calling in life as a farmer. In doing so, John was reflecting to his family and to others who knew him something of what God the Good Shepherd does for us as our provider. God is hard at work to provide for our needs throughout our lifetime—just as a real-life shepherd does for their sheep.
    The psalmist reassures us that: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff – they comfort me. We all know that for many years, and especially during the last while, John had dark valleys to walk through due to several health issues. Life was not easy for John. His valley likely at times tested him to the limits. Valleys that caused John to suffer from several limitations. Yet, through these valleys, John had a strong will to live and enjoyed life as much as possible, even with his limitations because of illnesses. It would be wrong however to blame God as the cause of inflicting these sufferings upon John. It would also be wrong to pass judgement on John by saying that he somehow brought it on himself. It would be more accurate to say that God allows suffering. He does this not because he’s a bully; not because he takes delight in causing people pain; not because he likes or enjoys punishing people. Rather, he allows suffering to draw us closer to him; to rely more upon him for endurance, strength and comfort. The psalmist says: for you are with me. Even in John’s darkest valley of suffering, God was with him. God was there to share the burden of his pain, his limitations, his frustrations, and discouragements. God the Good Shepherd was there to give him the ability to endure; God was there to strengthen and comfort him. God is also with us; now and always; at all times; in all circumstances.
    That is one reason why I especially like the ending of this Psalm. The psalmist writes: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word which is often translated into English as “follow” would be just as accurate if it were translated “pursue.” God is an active God—pursuing us, chasing after us, wanting us to have his goodness and mercy so much that he never gives up, making sure that he gives them to us. We will never be able to run away from God—he will always catch up to us.
    What I heard from the family about John’s life, I think that God did bless him in many ways with his goodness and mercy. God the Good Shepherd blessed John with many years of good health so that he could enjoy his work and providing for his family. God blessed John with his goodness and mercy through many loving relationships with his family members. He loved his family and showing up for his children and grandchildren’s activities, and spending quality time with them—which brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel.
    This passage gives us a comforting picture of Jesus’ promise to us. He tells us that for those who believe in God and in him: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” In other words, there is lots of room, so much room that it is beyond our ability to even comprehend it on this side of heaven. The promise doesn’t end there however. Jesus goes on to say: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.”
    What a beautiful promise this is! As the old saying goes: “There’s no place like home.” Isn’t that true? Especially if we’ve been gone away from home for a long time—it is so good to be home. If you have been away from your spouse and family, isn’t great to have them welcome you back home? Picture it in your heart and mind: Jesus who is our way, truth and life, has gone ahead of us to heaven to prepare our eternal home. He has organized everything—all that we need for the whole of eternity is looked after. WOW! Isn’t that wonderful! What a gift—that’s why we call it God’s grace.
    As you know, John enjoyed being with family and friends. Think of how much he will enjoy meeting up with his friends and family who are already in heaven waiting for him. Perhaps he’s enjoying a good cup of coffee and visiting with them now. As the psalmist speaks of God’s abundance: “My cup overflows,” and, as John might say: “More is better.”
    So, too, my prayer for each of you here today is that you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; that the LORD is your Shepherd; that one day you too, along with John may enjoy eternal life, in God’s dwelling place, where there is plenty of room for you, and more is better! For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Book Review: Reckless Daughter

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait Of Joni Mitchell

Author: David Yaffe

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

420 pages, including: Preface, Notes, Acknowledgments, and Index

This volume, by David Yaffe, professor of humanities at Syracuse University, is largely based on a series of interviews with Joni Mitchell and other musical colleagues, friends and enemies of Joni in the music industry, and others, over the course of several years up until 2015. Yaffe, of course, consults other written sources as well.

   Roberta Joan Anderson was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, the daughter of Myrtle McKee a teacher and William Anderson a military man and later a grocery store executive. She was an only child.

   Joni discovered at an early age that she thought her parents had bad judgement, were rather conservative, and lacked vision.

   In her early years she lived in Maidstone, North Battleford, and Saskatoon—all in Saskatchewan.

   She was critical of the academic system—hated learning by rote, and said teachers taught students what to think rather than how to think. Her favourite things were dancing and art.

   Although she was not involved in music at an early age; she had friends who were and she attended music festivals which they participated in; and she developed the capacity to analyze music by observing judges.

   As a Sunday School student Joni was sceptical about the Bible. Her Sunday School teacher couldn’t answer her question: “Who was Cain’s wife?” She thought there were things missing in the biblical stories—that they were somehow incomplete.

   In school, most likely her favourite teacher was Arthur Kratzmann. He taught in a rather unorthodox way. However, even though he had perhaps higher expectations of Joni and was critical of her work; it was because he thought she had much potential as a writer.

   When she was ten, Joni was diagnosed with polio and spent some time in a Saskatoon polio colony. The polio strengthened Joni’s endurance and determination to defeat it. Enduring and overcoming polio may have led Joni to identify with the biblical story of Job—whom she eventually wrote a song about on her Turbulent Indigo album, called “The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song).”

   While in high school Joni became a bit of a tomboy and started to play a ukulele, which her friends hated.

   After high school Joni studied for a year at Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. She got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock. She eventually agreed to sign the papers to let her child be adopted.

   She moved to Toronto, met and married Chuck Mitchell; and began to write and sing at various venues. She divorced Chuck Mitchell and continued to improve as a singer-songwriter and ended up in the United States.

   Joni was influenced by Bob Dylan’s personal narrative style of songwriting.

   Judy Collins recorded Joni’s songs and introduced Joni and Leonard Cohen at the Newport Folk Festival. Joni had an affair with Leonard, and later an affair with David Crosby.

   Yaffe, through a series of interviews with Joni and several other musicians provides the historical contexts, influences, experiences, etc., behind Joni’s songs and albums. He provides detailed accounts of the process of recording albums.

   Many musicians recognized and praised Joni as a brilliant, gifted singer-songwriter—indeed, even the word genius has been employed to describe her music.

The irony however is that: “Joni thought of herself as a painter first, a musician second.” (p. 86)

   Crosby, Stills and Nash were formed in Joni’s living room house in Laurel Canyon. Joni and Graham Nash were in love with each other; Nash wanted to marry Joni; but she broke away from their relationship because she feared ending up in a traditional housewife role and her music career would suffer or even end.

   Joni’s Blue album has become her best selling one—over 10 million were sold in the U.S. alone. On it, she bares her soul and is perhaps most confessional of all her albums.

   After her Blue album, Joni was still struggling with depression, and she bought a stone cottage on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast—living a quiet, reclusive life for a year. Here she wrote songs for her For the Roses album.

   Joni’s next album, Court and Spark moves in a different direction from her previous albums. In Court and Spark, Joni’s songs reflect influences of jazz and blues. The album sold over two million copies in its first year.

   Over the years Joni has produced a brilliant, creative open tuning method of sound that has influenced and inspired many musicians as well as attracted many listeners to her music. Although she was popular as a folk singer-songwriter, Joni also experimented and developed her career in the genres of jazz, techno-pop, electronic and rock.

   Joni’s successful career as a singer-songwriter has come at a cost. She has suffered the pain of broken relationships; in the past she was addicted to cocaine; she smoked four packages of cigarettes a day and lost her soprano voice; in 2015, she was unconscious with an aneurysm and had emergency brain surgery; among other factors.

   Although I appreciated many of the stories behind some of Joni’s songs and albums and the research involved in including them in this volume; occasionally I felt Yaffe focussed more on others’ perceptions of Joni than Joni’s own point-of-view. It also seemed that at times Yaffe went overboard with the name-dropping game leaving this reader wondering why. One further critique: Yaffe’s written sources at times seem to be rather sparse and dated. For example, I was at a loss to find any up-to-date written material sources cited by Yaffe in the last couple of chapters.

    All things considered, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait Of Joni Mitchell is a worthwhile read—profiling one of the most gifted, authentic, rebellious and creative musicians of our time.

Friday, November 1, 2019

My New Book: Praying The Lectionary Cycle A

Please check out my new book Praying The Lectionary: Prayers Of The Church Cycle A, available for purchase from the CSS Publishing Company. This resource is for pastors and those responsible for preparing the Prayers of the Church for Sunday Worship. The lectionary readings are also listed for each Sunday of the church year. The prayers may be used as is, or edited to meet the needs and context of the worshipping community.
PLEASE NOTE, my correct bio is as follows: Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson attended and received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and his M. Div. degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatchewan, Canada. He recently retired as the chaplain at Bethany Meadows in Camrose, Alberta, Canada. He enjoys hiking, bicycling, traveling, reading and amateur photography. He is married to Julianna who is also a Lutheran pastor. Click here or on the image to view further information and purchase.

Monday, October 14, 2019

History of Canadian Thanksgiving

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving in Canada, or at least the land that would become Canada, has its own history, separate from our American counterparts.
Traditions of giving thanks long predate the arrival of European settlers in North America. First Nations across Turtle Island have traditions of thanksgiving for surviving winter and for receiving crops and game as a reward for their hard work. These traditions may include feasting, prayer, dance, potlatch, and other ceremonies, depending on the peoples giving thanks.
When it comes to European thanksgivings in Canada, we have a few tales to tell.

You might also want to read more about Thanksgiving from one of my previous blog posts here:

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019