Yesterday, I participated online in a funeral at Christ Lutheran in Waterloo ON for Pastor Paul Bosch, a creative, thoughtful, lively pastor, preacher, worship planner and leader; a lifelong learner, teacher, writer, and artist; a spouse, father, grandfather, colleague, friend, and mentor who died on January 21, the morning of his 92 Birthday with family around him. After completing seminary in Philadelphia, Paul first served a congregation in Pennsylvania, then for 20 years as Lutheran Campus Chaplain at Syracuse University, NY, followed by study in Switzerland, a parish in England and again in the US, and was then called as Lutheran Campus Pastor at University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier; and for seven years before retirement, taught at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in worship, pastoral practise, and the arts. He wrote monthly essays on worship for the ELCIC website, worship.ca, for over 25 years. You can find his insightful writing under “Worship Workbench.” I first met Paul as a new pastor at an ELCIC Worship Conference in Calgary in the late 80’s. He was dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, a plaid shirt and leather vest, and a cowboy hat. Though from Ontario, I remarked he certainly looked the part of a Calgarian. He said with a wide smile, “When in Rome…” I soon learned of Paul’s exuberant and delightful character and that he was never shy about offering his opinions, particularly about worship. On one occasion at a Worship Conference in Camrose, our guest presenter put on their alb in preparation for worship and began tying a cincture around their waste. And Paul, not a fan of this addition to liturgical dress, said simply, “You’re not going to wear that rope, are you? It makes your butt look huge!” His knowledge, skill and liturgical sense was extensive and beyond dispute. He was awarded the inaugural Companion of the Worship Arts honour of our church. He helped plan and lead worship in many National and Synodical events of the Church and was a great champion of Campus Ministry for all the years I knew him. Though I was not fortunate to have Paul as a teacher or close colleague, for more than ten years, as part of my work on worship with the National church, I received his monthly essays and read them before their posting on the worship.ca website. Paul’s last essay, number 279 by Paul’s count, was posted - with thanks to Nicky, in October of last year, when Paul was 91. At the funeral, Bishop Michael Pryce in his sermon referred to a phrase Paul used more than once, from the Charles Wesley hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. The last line, “lost in wonder, love and praise.” Last week, I looked through a collection of Paul’s sermons and paintings, published in 2021 by Lutheran Campus Ministry at Syracuse University in Paul’s honour, titled, Wonder Love and Praise. As Bishop Pryce mentioned, for Paul the words represent a journey for us as followers of Christ, a journey Paul lived and delighted in. In Paul’s own words from a sermon by the same title, I am suggesting here that these three qualities, Wonder, Love, and Praise – not only represent a description of three spiritual impulses in human life. They also represent a journey, a trajectory. For Christians, Wonder leads to Love. Love in turn leads to Praise.” (p. 76) Paul’s life and ministry reflected and witnessed to that wonder, love, and praise for God and neighbours. I share these words and part of Paul’s story, in part to honour him, his life and his death, but also for their connections to the temptation story of Jesus in the wilderness that begins Lent each year.
In the gospel of Matthew this year, the simple version from the gospel of Mark is expanded as it is in the gospel of Luke. But unlike Luke, Matthew retains the original order of temptations, with Jesus tempted first to serve himself with power, second, to test God’s faithfulness, and third to follow evil over God and good. In the first two instances, the “tempter,” begins, “If you are the Son of God,” do this. Jesus’ identity and purpose is what is at stake, and whether Jesus is willing to give that up to follow another path, his own or the tempter’s self-serving way. Jesus refuses both temptations based on the word of God. And in the third instance, the tempter invites Jesus to worship them and everything will be his. And Jesus commands the tempter to get behind him, because Jesus will worship God and only serve God, for that is Jesus’ identity and purpose. As declared in Jesus’ Baptism which comes immediately before this story, in the voice from heaven, and again at Jesus’ transfiguration that we heard last Sunday, from the cloud, “this is my beloved son, with whom I am so pleased.” From Baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit deeper into the wilderness of humanity, and the uncertainties and dangers to be found there, resists the temptations to deny himself and God, and instead embraces God’s identity and good purpose for him and for the sake of all humanity and creation.
The other readings today place this in context. The continuing creation story from Genesis, often called “the fall,” is a metaphor of two prototypical humans tempted by evil who fail to follow God’s command for their own wellbeing and that of the garden of creation. The story illustrates and accounts for the present circumstances of human life, especially its brokenness and pain, too evident to us in the one year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, the devastation in Turkey and Syria, and countless other personal and collective tragedies and struggles, that according to the story, are the result of disobedience and its consequences in evil and suffering, in contrast to the memory that remains of life as it was intended to be in the sacred garden of God. And as Paul writes, this first sin of disobedience continues with each of us and this world, but now, so also the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, who resisted temptation, that brings justification, and an abundance of grace, and life. The mystery of Christ’s obedience and faithfulness, even to death on the cross, but whom God raised to new life, gifts to us, all humanity and creation, righteousness and justification before God, and is cause for Wonder, Love, and Praise, always.
Jesus own resisting of temptation is also an invitation to similarly follow who we are created to be as God’s own beloved children, with whom God is so pleased. To resist every and any temptation to deny ourselves and who God has created us uniquely to be, to resist being something or someone we are not, to falsely save or justify ourselves, to worship or follow anything that would distract us from God’s good purpose. And instead to be opened, free and embraced by God’s grace in Christ and filled with the Spirit of Wonder, Love, and Praise. To live celebrating the wonder of life and all creation such that we can’t help but love all God has made, including one another, and live lives of praise of God and our neighbours, for the wellbeing and joy of all in all creation.
Celebrating Paul’s life and honoring his death is a witness to the delight and joy God intends for all humanity. And Jesus’ time of trial in the wilderness of temptations that begins Lent for us this and every year, is a witness and affirmation to live in Wonder, Love, and Praise, resisting any and every evil that distracts and tempts us to live for any other purpose that brings suffering and pain for ourselves and others and the earth as its consequence. Wonder, Love and Praise. Could these be our spiritual disciplines for Lent? Maybe they are not far from the traditional Lenten spiritual disciplines, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Devotion, Simplicity, Compassion, for the sake of this world and everyone and every creature in it that God so loves and delights in. Wonder, Love and Praise.
I recalled that Paul had written essays on the desired worship setting for each of the seasons of the church year. I went back and read the essay on Lent, with its accompanying drawing. It suggests a setting with the ambo, or place of the word, the table, font, and sedilia, or seats for worship leaders, all on a single axis, east to west, with the people gathered on either side facing one another. I smiled thinking our worship setting for Lent almost exactly follows Paul’s suggestion and that he would be pleased. He said in his essay, quoting architect Rudolph Schwarz, who called this setting the “Sacred Journey” a radically radial setting of “Sacred Inwardness,” in which “we face one another in worship, we look into each other’s faces.” And what we are invited to see is God’s beloved child, with whom God is so pleased, beyond every temptation to see others or ourselves differently, and live differently and suffer the consequences of that brokenness, rather than in Wonder, Love and Praise for all God has done in Christ and by the Spirit for the Lenten springtime of new life, new hope, new justice, new peace, new joy! Wonder, Love, and Praise, in all our relations. Let it be so, now, and forever. Amen.