Monday, October 4, 2021

Read the Bible in a Year continued: The Prophets


I realize that it has been some time since I wrote a blog post on my journey of reading the Bible in one year. In my last blog post of March 1, 2021, I had completed the Torah, which, if you haven’t read it, you can do so here.

Now I have completed reading the Hebrew Bible/Older Testament. As I reflect on my commitment to this project, which I continue to find challenging some days, regarding the time factor, my thoughts turn to the prophets and the prophetic books. The following are a few brief reflections on them.


The difficult ministries of the Prophets

God called most of the prophets into difficult ministries, which meant that they did not win any popularity contests! God’s people often failed to listen to their messages, rejecting them personally and their messages, ridiculed them, persecuted them, arrested them, and, as in the case of Jeremiah, even threatened to kill them. The lives of God’s prophets were not easy, often lonely, and extremely challenging physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. 


Symbolic Prophetic actions

The prophets, so they believed, were called by God to do some rather weird, and difficult symbolic prophetic actions. For example, in the case of Isaiah (see chapter 20) God called him to go naked and barefoot for three years. Jeremiah was told by God to wear a yoke (chapter 27:2), and the prophet Hananiah took it from Jeremiah and broke it as a sign that the oppressive yoke of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar would be removed from all nations within two years (chapter 28:10-11), and Jeremiah’s oracle regarding an iron yoke, in opposition to Hananiah’s words and action (chapter 28:12ff). God told Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days symbolizing the number of years of Israel’s punishment; and then Ezekiel was to lie on his right side 40 days symbolizing the number of years of Judah’s punishment. Hosea was instructed by God to marry a prostitute symbolizing the unfaithfulness of God’s people. He was also instructed to name a daughter Lo-ruhamah, meaning Not pitied, and a son Lo-ammi, meaning Not my people. Jonah was called by God—fleeing, resisting, kicking and screaming all the way!—to go to the capital city of the enemy, Nineveh, which had inflicted so much suffering on God’s people to preach to them.


Preaching difficult messages

Speaking of preaching, many of the prophets were given God’s messages that God’s people did not want to hear, let alone obey. God called on the prophets to preach messages of repentance, judgement and punishment for violating God’s ways, condemnation of idolatry (a constant sin in the Hebrew Bible), confrontation of unethical merchants with their false weights and measures cheating the poor, criticism of self-indulgent priests and political leaders who thought God would be pleased with their worship, even though they neglected to care for widows, orphans and resident aliens. The prophets were strong advocates of justice, which is linked to keeping God’s covenant and commandments. Violation of the covenant and commandments proved disastrous as the prophets warned—e.g., the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and famines in the land.


The Day of the LORD

The prophets proclaim a day of the LORD. It is a day of darkness and to be dreaded. It refers to disastrous cataclysmic events, God’s enemies will be punished; see Joel 2:1-2; Amos 5:18-20; and Zechariah 1:14-15. However, there are also more hopeful, and blessed references that to the day of the LORD; see Isaiah 4:2-6; 25:6-10; 30:26; Hosea 2:18-23; Joel 2:28-32; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 14:6-11.


Good News

In addition to the prophets being messengers of “bad news,” they were also blessed by God with “good news.” For example, Isaiah speaks of the wonderful beautiful vision of perfect Shalom in chapters 2 and 11. Jeremiah purchased a plot of land as a sign of hope that God’s people would eventually return from exile to the promised land. Jeremiah also spoke of a new covenant in chapter 31, highlighting the importance of forgiveness. Isaiah 7:14 has been interpreted by Christians as a reference to the birth of Jesus the Messiah, as well as Micah 5:2. Isaiah 52-53 refer to the Suffering Servant, whom Christians interpret as Jesus. There are also references in the prophets to Jerusalem as the capital of the world, when all nations shall live in peace.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

My latest book

 My latest book, last in a series of three, Praying The Lectionary Prayers Of The Church Cycle C is now available from CSS Publishing Company. You can purchase your copy by clicking on the link. Thank you!

        https://store.csspub.com/prod-0788029681.htm

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Memorial Sermon for Daniel Reid


Memorial Sermon for Daniel James Reid, based on Psalm 103:13-17 & Romans 8:31-39, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Skudesness Lutheran Church, two o’clock, August 4, 2021. 

Death comes to us all. As many of you know, there are different kinds of death. Some deaths are expected after a long life, or a long period of suffering caused by chronic illness. Such deaths are regarded by many people as a blessing. Other deaths are not expected and unpredictable, as well as unwanted. Daniel James Reid’s death was an accident; it was not expected or predicted; nor was it wanted. One day Daniel was very much alive. The next day he was no longer with you.

At first you may have been stunned; shock deadens the blow. Then the anesthesia of shock wears off and we begin to feel the awful hurt and heartache of bereavement. We would fall apart if it were not for the presence of those who care: mom, dad, children, sisters, brothers, other relatives, friends, neighbours and God. They come quickly to take us in their arms and breathe comfort in our ears. Remember too, that there are many people whom we do not even know—strangers--who read or hear of our bereavement and lift prayers to God in our behalf. 

The Bible, in Psalm 103, speaks about the shortness of human life. The psalmist compares our human life with grass or wild flowers that quickly bloom, then a strong scorching wind makes them wither and die. Most, if not all of you, I expect would say that Daniel’s life was way too short. Why did he have to fall off that roof? He was only in his 30s, too young to die. I cannot answer your question why. However, I can point you to our Bible passages that speak of a God who loves us all and is with us, even in death. 

As the psalmist assures us: Just as parents have compassion for their children, the LORD has compassion for all who worship him. The English word compassion is from the Latin words “com” meaning “with” or “together,” and “passio” or “pati” meaning “to suffer.” We are always within the reach and sight of God’s compassion. Even though we do wrong, mess up, make terrible mistakes, God our Parent still has compassion for us. Daniel’s parents had compassion for him, even when he did wrong and made mistakes; and Daniel had compassion for you Taylor, Jordyn and Jack. That compassion is a gift that God gives us. Because of that compassion, the sadness and suffering seem at times so great.

After the loss of Daniel perhaps you felt that everyone and everything was against you. Such feelings do come to us, since just as there are life-forces there are also anti-life forces at work in the world. However, listen again to these words of promise from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? The One who died for us, Jesus—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us.”(The Message)

In other words, the answer to whoever or whatever is against you is that they shall not have the last word; they shall not win because God is on your side. God has the last word, and God will win in the end. Why? Because it is kind of like playing a game of ball or hockey. The team with the best players will win the game. You and I are on the winning team, since we have the very best player who ever lived, namely, Jesus. He has already won the game for each and every one of us by the life he lived; by his suffering, atoning death on the cross; and by his victory over death through his resurrection-life three days after he died. 

Paul goes on to say with great confidence: “Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us (or condemn us)? (Do you think anyone has the power to separate us/divorce us from Christ’s love?) There is no way!”(The Message) Just as your love for Daniel went with him when he travelled so far away from you; and just as Daniel’s love for you remained with you even though he was working on the other side of the world in Saudi Arabia; so Jesus’ love is always going to be in us, with us, and for us.

Paul is even more confident when he answers his questions about Jesus’ love, he tells us this: “Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothingnothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”(The Message) His loving embrace by suffering and dying on the cross and his victory over death by his resurrection from death is his unconditional gift to each one of us; that after we die, we too may share in a resurrection like his.

What wonderful GOOD NEWS this is for you and I! The BEST NEWS EVER! I happen to believe it. I hope and pray that you do too. It makes all the difference in the world to live and die trusting in and knowing that God’s steadfast love (God’s constant love, God’s reliable love) is from everlasting to everlasting. To be loved by our LORD and, in response, to love others, that is the ultimate meaning of life. May it be so for all of you! Amen! 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Book Review: The Cellist Of Sarajevo


The Cellist Of Sarajevo 


Author: Steven Galloway


Publisher: Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, paperback, 261 pages


The Author 

Steven Galloway, at the time of this publication, authored two other novels, and was a professor who taught creative writing at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. However, he was dismissed from the University of British Columbia because of charges of sexual misconduct and bullying. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, one charge was substantiated, an extra-marital affair with a student. 


Format

The novel is divided into four parts, each having a few chapters, which focus on the three main characters: Arrow, Kenan, and Dragan. The cellist is an unnamed, and in a sense, minor and mysterious character in the novel. There are a few other characters not portrayed or developed in great detail. The novel concludes with an Afterword, in which Galloway explains the true life cellist, Vedran Smailovic; actually did play Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for 22 days, where 22 people lined up to buy bread were killed.


Some Observations

Sarajevo is under siege; principal cellist of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra looks out his window; he sees many of his friends and neighbours lined up on the street; waiting to buy bread. A bomb exploded and killed them. The cellist puts on his tuxedo; takes his cello down onto the street; and proceeds to play Albinoni’s Adagio. He did this for 22 days, each day to honour the dead. 

A sniper who names herself Arrow successfully has escaped from being shot by other snipers.

Kenan, husband of Amila, and dad of three children worries about the dangers of travelling to the brewery to collect enough water for the family and their widow neighbour, Mrs. Ristovski. Will he make it back home safely, or will someone shoot him? 

Dragan, a sixty-four-year-old baker remembers how Sarajevo was prior to the war—or at least how he thought it was. He sent his wife and son to Italy, hoping they’ll be safer there. Every time he goes to the bakery he risks being shot by a sniper. He is grateful for his work, and through it he has access to food, which he shares with his sister, brother-in-law, and their family. He lives with them now, since his home was destroyed. 

The novel gives us a realistic impression of how disruptive and destructive war can be in a city. There are ruined buildings all over; the tram, the public transportation system is no longer available; inflation is sky-rocketing; food is scarcer and the price of it is more than double prior to the war. People like Kenan, a clerical assistant in an accounting firm, no longer work and have to sell house appliances or other items to buy food; while those involved in the black market exploit others, have plenty of food, and drive new Mercedes. 

A commander named Nermin assigns Arrow the sniper the job of keeping the cellist alive while he plays on the street. 

The cellist and the music are a symbol of the necessity of mourning the dead and living in hope for the future of Sarajevo. 

Galloway addresses several issues regarding the realities of war, including: good and evil, the consequences of individual and collective actions, the fear of death, despair and hope, the eternal questions of why and how long in the face of suffering and injustice, to name a few.

Reflecting on the vulnerability of civilization, Dragan observes: “It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he (Dragan) ever would have thought possible.” (p. 248) 

In his Afterword, Galloway briefly mentions some of the historical details of the 1992-1996 Siege of Sarajevo, and thanks all of those who inspired him and contributed to his writing and publication of the novel.

Reading this novel makes yours truly more grateful that we Canadians have been blessed to live in a peaceful nation compared to far too many other countries in the world. May we never take this peaceful blessing for granted! 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Book Review: One Hundred Tons Of Ice


One Hundred Tons Of Ice and Other Gospel Stories

Author: Lawrence Wood

Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press, paperback, 184 pages, including Credits, Bibliography, and Notes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


The Author

At the time of publication, Lawrence Wood was pastor of Fremont United Methodist Church in Fremont, Michigan. Previously he served in Harbor Springs and Alanson, Michigan. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. His writing has appeared in The Christian Century. He is currently senior minister at St. Andrew by the Sea, a community church in Gulf Shores, Alabama. 


Contents

This volume begins with a section entitled Overture, followed by four parts: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. Each of these four parts contains several chapters. The chapters are thematic in nature, and the chapter titles often reveal the theme. Here are a couple of examples: In Summer, one title is Dixon, Illinois. In Fall, one title is the Peaceable Kingdom, which also includes a black and white image of the familiar painting of the same name by artist Edward Hicks. 


A Few Brief Examples

In Overture, Wood begins with a wonderful story about a couple and their Newfoundland dog surviving an episode of falling into ice-cold water after the ice they were on gave way. Afterwards, the husband became more cognizant of the holy in the ordinary stuff of life. Wood then goes on to cite a quotation from an insightful ninety year old layperson: “The last book of the Bible is still being written, and I’d like to add a verse or two.” Wood then suggests: “Maybe that is what preaching is all about—telling the sacred story of our own day.” (p. 2) 

In Summer, Wood shares a story about actor Fred Astaire and commercial exploitation. Another story I’d never heard of relates how “The Great Molasses Flood” (pp. 34-35) was a disaster killing and injuring many.

In Fall, Wood tells the story of Mr. Jefferson’s Bible and the Jesus Seminar—both of which decided what sayings and doings of Jesus were authentic, ending up with much different Gospels than those in the canon. We need the variety found in our canonical Bible. In Jesus and Mrs. Fish, Wood tells the story of the affluent Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish. She was not impressed with high society and ostentation, yet she extravagantly entertained them. She epitomized the greed of “more is never enough,” saying: “We’re not really rich. We have only a few million.” (p. 88)

In Winter, Wood ponders the question, what did Jesus look like? He includes the legend of Veronica’s handkerchief image of Jesus’ face; the legend of the Shroud of Turin; Michelangelo’s Jesus; French painter Leon Lhermitte’s portrait of Jesus; and Warner Sallman’s familiar portrait of Jesus. Wood concludes: “We are created in the image of God and are called to be the body of Christ, and believe it or not, that is his true likeness.” (p. 116) In the book’s title story, One Hundred Tons of Ice, readers will discover the story of “the Ice King,” (p. 142) Frederic Tudor, and where he sold the ice. It is a story of “one person’s ‘junk’ is another person’s treasure.” Everyone and everything is useful to God. 

In Spring, Wood includes a story called Here Today, in which readers learn about John James Audubon and his encounter with what he estimated were one billion passenger pigeons in 1813. By 1914, the last bird died in the Cincinnati Zoo, making the species extinct. The Old Rugged Cross, as the title suggests, relates the story of the hymn’s origins. Wood also reflects on Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross as well as the would-be followers of Jesus carrying their crosses. 

Pastor Wood shares some priceless stories in this volume—stories that are endorsed by Professors Thomas G. Long, David Buttrick, and William H. Willimon on the back cover. Highly recommended to preachers and others who love stories.