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Sermon (2) and Liturgy for The Fifth Sunday in Easter - Year A
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
"The People of The Way"


READING:  Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
SERMON :  "The People of The Way"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-ea05su.y-a 980000
                  
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources:  The Prayer of Invocation are the Prayer of Dedication are
   based on ones found in John Maynard's "Prayers and Litanies For
   Easter 5A" as sent to the PRCL List, April 2002.  The sermon starter
   arose from the  children's' story "Finding The Way" for this Sunday
   as provided by Charles Kirkpatrick at "Sermons4Kids.com" in 2002. 
   The quote from Karl Barth was found in the sample mailing for this
   Sunday from "SermonIllustrations.com" and is from Rev. John H.
   Pavelko's "Avoiding a Troubled Heart".  The children's story is
   based on and adapted from a traditional tale as shared by Gregory D.
   Kenny, "Markings," 26/Sun/Year, Cycle B, Readings 138, Sept.1997 as
   sent to the PRCL List in April 2002.  The Prayers of the People are
   adapted from those found in "Prayers For Sundays and Seasons: Year
   A", Liturgy Training Publications, 1998., pp 62-63.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP 
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Praise God with shouts of joy, all you people!  
P  Sing to the glory of His name!  
   Offer Him praise and thanksgiving.
L  Say to God, "How wonderful are the things you do!" 
   and exalt him in the midst of all the nations.
P  We bless the name of the Lord for he is good. 
   We worship the Lord for he delivers all who call on him.
L  God has raised up a people to witness to his love
P  God has prepared a house for all who trust in him
   and who follow his Son day by day.  
L  God has prepared an eternal home, where joy overflows
   and suffering and death are no more.
P  How wonderful are the things that our Lord has done,
   and the things that he is doing now and will yet do
   Alleluia, Alleluia.  Amen


* INTROIT: "This is The Day" (verse 1)                             - VU 412


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
O God, we thank you and praise you for this day and for the opportunity you
have given us in this good land to gather and to worship you without fear. 
Most Holy God, we pray that you would be with us in this place of praise
and prayer and that through the ministry of your Holy Spirit you would form
the minds of your faithful people into a single will.  Make us love what
you command and desire what you promise, that, amid all the changes of this
world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found and that our every
action might show forth the light of your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, he
who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


* HYMN:  "Come In, Come In And Sit Down"                           - VU 395


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "The Magic Rings"
Object    Story
Source    Based on and adapted from a traditional tale as shared by
          Gregory D. Kenny, "Markings," 26/Sun/Year, Cycle B, Readings
          138, Sept. 1997 as sent to the PRCL List in April 2002.

I would like to tell you a story today.   It is an old story about a
magical ring...  

The father of a family possessed a miraculous ring.  It had been passed
down through generation after generation in the family to the first born
son.  Whoever wore the ring was endowed with special grace that made him
extraordinarily kind, and lovable, and caring, and virtuous and good in
every way.  Never did he suffer a temptation to hurt anyone.  Never did he
even think a bad thought about anyone.
          
For many years there had been no problem in passing on the ring, because
each generation had produced only one son as heir .  This father, however,
had three sons.  The powers of the ring alerted him to the danger that the
children who did not receive the ring when he died would become very
jealous and not turnout well at all - so full of envy they would be.  To
solve this problem, the father had a Jeweller fashion two rings identical
to the magic ring, and thus, when he died, he was able to leave one ring to
each of his three sons.
               
Upon receiving his inheritance, the first question each son asked was,
"Which of us has the true ring?" They brought the rings to a jeweller.  
The jeweller could not tell them apart, so perfectly did they mach. 
             
Next they went to a wise old rabbi to seek his help.  He carefully studied
the rings, and then asked the three sons:  "Is not the purpose of the
miraculous ring to make its wearer loving and kind, truthful and virtuous,
caring and industrious?"  
             
"Yes, Rabbi, that's the purpose," they replied in unison.
          
"Then," said the rabbi, "it makes no difference which is the true ring.  If
all of you behave lovingly and kindly, truthfully and virtuously, caringly
and industriously, the ring each of you is wearing will become miraculous." 

             
And so it was.  Each Son decided not to worry about whether he had the
right ring - but instead lived as well as they could - they prayed to God
each day for strength and wisdom, they never returning evil for evil, but
always did good - they blessed those who cursed them and helped all those
who were in need.
             
That is kind of what we are all about here today.   We come, not to worry
about who has the right ideas  and who has the wrong ideas, we come not to
decide if our brothers and sisters and our neighbours have the truth or
don't have the truth, we come to follow Jesus and live in the way he lives
- asking his help each day to be loving and forgiving and kind and giving -
to ask him to produce in us the Fruit of Spirit that you are learning about
over the next few weeks.   Let us pray...


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Loving God, we thank you - for giving us your Son, Jesus - and for
   showing us how to live - and for helping us to do what he did.  -
   May the fruit of your Spirit - grow from deep within us - as we
   follow Jesus - day by day.  Amen
        
And in the word's Jesus taught us, let us pray together as his family
saying...
          
   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen     SONG BY...


SONG  "Peace Like A River"


SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SPECIAL MATTERS
- Welcome and Announcements    
- Birthdays and Anniversaries     
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God they will to see.
 Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!
              

A READING FROM ACTS 7:55-60
   (NIV)  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and
   saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 
   "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at
   the right hand of God."

   At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their
   voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and
   began to stone him.  Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at
   the feet of a young man named Saul.  

   While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my
   spirit."  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not
   hold this sin against them."  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks Be To God


RESPONSIVE READING:   Psalm 31 pts I & III (VU 758) & Gloria Patri Sung
                      
       Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  
       As it was in the beginning, is now, and evermore shall be.  
       World without end.  Amen


A READING FROM 1 PETER 2:2-10
   (NIV)  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it
   you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the
   Lord is good.  As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men
   but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living
   stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy
   priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through
   Jesus Christ.  For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in
   Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in
   him will never be put to shame."  

   Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.  But to those who do
   not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the
   capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that
   makes them fall."  They stumble because they disobey the message -
   which is also what they were destined for.  

   But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
   people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who
   called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were
   not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not
   received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks Be To God


* HYMN:  "The Church's One Foundation"                             - VU 332


A READING FROM JOHN 14:1-14
   (NIV)  Jesus said:  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in
   God ; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it
   were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a
   place for you.   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will
   come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I
   am.  You know the way to the place where I am going." 

   Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how
   can we know the way?" 

   Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one
   comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you
   would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have
   seen him."

   Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for
   us."

   Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been
   among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the
   Father.  How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?  Don't you believe
   that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I
   say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in
   me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the
   Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence
   of the miracles themselves.

   "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I
   have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because
   I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my
   name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me
   for anything in my name, and I will do it."

L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


SERMON:  "People of The Way" 

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in 
   the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 
   Amen.

Computers are wonderful things when they are working properly!  When there
are no worms or virii infecting them,     and no mysterious gremlins causing
the mouse to jump around or programs to simply stop working.

There is so much information you can get from a computer - especially if
you are connected to the Internet.

One thing that I use my computer for - aside from writing sermons and
sending out prayer requests and sharing little bits of humour and points to
ponder - is to get maps to show me how to go somewhere. 
 
Last summer, a friend of mine who lives in Cranbrook, moved across town -
and he invited me to come and spend a few days of my holiday time with him
while Charlene was in Halifax.

Since I didn't know exactly how to find where they lived, and since I find
Cranbrook a bit confusing, I went to my computer and opened up one of my
favourite web sites called MapBlast.  There a screen comes up and asks you
what city and what street name and number you are looking for.   

I typed in my friend's new address and the computer thought for a minute -
and then it opened a map.  It even put a little cross on the map to show
the house where my friend lives.

"This is great," I thought, "this is going to be a piece of cake!"  I
printed out the map and put it with my things that I was going to take on
the trip.
The night before I was going to leave, my friend called me  and asked me if
I knew how to get to his house.  I told him I had gotten a map from my
computer and it looked like it would be very easy to find their house.  

"I will just take the Highway south to Cranbrook, turn in Cranbrook onto
Victoria Avenue South, run up it to 3rd Street South, take a left, then run
along it to your street 26th Avenue South - turn right onto it, and start
looking for your house number after I have gone six blocks along it.

"That's great," my friend  said, "except 26th Avenue South doesn't run all
the way down to 3rd Street - they haven't finished building the road
through yet.  You have to come up Victoria Avenue to 24th Avenue South -
which curves around in a bit of an S turn where you can go right or left
and then becomes Hidden Valley Road.  When you are on Hidden Valley Road
you will see 26th Avenue come up - a left turn - and we are just a block
down it."

Ohhhh!  That was an important bit of information.  
Without it, who knows where I might have ended up? 

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Computers and maps are great, but it
is always better to get directions from someone who has been there!

And so we come to today's gospel reading where Jesus says to his disciples
in those familiar words,
   - words so often used as we celebrate the lives of those who have gone
   to be with God,
       - the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on the evening before
       he was nailed to the cross:

       "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God ; trust
       also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were
       not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a
       place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I
       will come back and take you to be with me that you also may
       be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am
       going." 

and Thomas replies to him:

       "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know
       the way?" 

Thomas's confusion about knowing where Jesus was going is not one that we
share.  We know because of what happened after Jesus rose from the dead
three days later where Jesus has gone.

But the question of knowing the way there 
- that question still burns in many hearts.

If you want  to find the way to heaven, where would you look?  

Well, we have the Bible, don't we?   
The Bible will help us to know the way to heaven. 

We have other books too.  

We have libraries full of books that would help us to know how to get to
heaven.  
   - we have books by the prophets of other religions and books by the
   teachers of our faith,
       - we have scriptural type books by men of other traditions like
       those of Joseph Smith - and Ron L Hubbard - and even the prophet
       Mohammad
          - and we have books and speeches and video recordings from
          people who believe in Jesus 
all of which give us a variety of views about how to know God 
and how to join God in his eternal kingdom.

In fact we have an abundance of information,
information from a huge variety of sources that tell us 
- like the information on my printout from MapBlast, 
what streets to take and what turns to make.

All these things are great
but if we want to find the way to heaven, 
- much as I wanted to find the way to my friend's house in Cranbrook,
then we really need to talk to someone who has been there.

I wonder who that might be?  

Jesus says to his disciples in another part of the Gospel of John:
   "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them
   you possess eternal life. And it is they that testify on my behalf;
   yet you refuse to come to me to have life"   (5:39-40)

In today's reading, Jesus answers the question of Thomas: "How can we know
the way", with these words:

   "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the
   Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my
   Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

If we want to find the way to heaven, we need to look to Jesus, 
because he is The Way!

Jesus was there before he was born of Mary and the Holy Spirit
and Jesus is there now, able to help us find the way, 
   - able to help us, because he, like no other person before or since,
   has not only been on the way, he is, because of who he was, and is, and
   evermore shall be - The Way.

As Jesus says to his disciples: "If you really knew me, you would know my
Father as well." 
and again as he says: 
   "The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the
   Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say
   that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe
   on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Karl Barth, easily one of the most famous theologians of the 20th Century, 
was lecturing once to a group of students at Princeton University.

One student asked him a question that has probably crossed your minds from
time to time: 

       "Sir", said the student, "don't you think that God has
       revealed himself in other religions and not only in
       Christianity?" 

Barth's answer stunned the crowd.  

       "With a modest thunder he answered, "No, God has not revealed
       himself in any religion, including Christianity.  He has
       revealed himself in his Son." 

That is the challenge and the scandal of our faith.  That is the great
claim that Jesus makes - and the great stumbling block for many people.

We are not called to believe in a religion
nor to follow the teachings of a religion.

We are called to believe in a person, a living person;
a person who claimed to not only speak for God - but to be God.

Think of some of the claims made in today's gospel reading by Jesus:

He tells his disciples      "I am in the Father and the Father is in me"
He tells them               "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father"
and he tells them           "I am the way, the truth and the life"

There is something very special about Jesus 
   either that - or Jesus is the greatest liar the world has ever met,
   and no-one should ever follow him - or call him a great teacher.

There is something totally unique about Jesus that no prophet, no priest,
no teacher of any other religion has ever had; either that or Jesus was a
mad man - and not worthy of a second of our time, unless that time is spent
in praying for his healing.

                 "I am the way, the truth and the life;
                 no one comes to the Father but by me"

A lot of Christians spend a lot of time apologizing for that statement by
Jesus.

They assure all their friends - their family - and those people who have no
religion as well as those are follow the prophets of other religions, that
God is loving and kind and that all that is important is that we love one
another.

And while God is loving and kind, 
   and while it is of the upmost importance that we love one another,
we should never apologize for Jesus and what he said,
   and likewise we should never set up ourselves as the judge of who is
going to heaven and who is going to hell.

What we are called to do as ones who believe in Jesus 
   as ones's who have said with our lips that "He is Lord" despite the
   risks that are involved
       be the risk we find in our nation of being scorned and ridiculed by
       others or the risk that others find in certain nations of being put
       to death saying those words aloud,
what we are called to do as ones who have said that Jesus is Lord and as
   ones who are convinced in our hearts that he has been raised from the
   dead 
is to listen to him and to follow him in the way that he shows us to go, 
   and to testify to others about the joy, and the hope, and the love, and
   the peace we have found in him.

The very first Christians 
   - the thousands in Jerusulem who decided to follow Jesus on the day of
   Pentecost
   - and the tens of thousands throughout the Roman Empire who become
   followers in the next two or three decades,
were not called Christians - the were called "Followers of The Way"

Listen again to some of the words that Gil read to us this morning - the
words that Apostle Peter uses to describe the followers of The Way in his
letter to the Churches in Asia Minor.  And note what he says our job is as
People of The Way:

Peter writes to the churches in Asia Minor - and to us today:

   "You are a chosen race, 
       a royal priesthood, 
          a holy nation, 
              God's own people, 
   in order that you may proclaim 
       the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his
       marvellous light. 
   Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people;
       once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

My friends, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, I know that many of you
really understand and have experienced within your lives the mercy of God -
that mercy that has brought you from a sense of alienation and loneliness
and guilt to a new life - a new life in which you feel connected to God and
a part of his great and wonderful family - a family different from all
other families because it is a family dedicated not only to doing good
rather than harm, but to receiving and sharing with all the bread of heaven
to earth come down - the Living Christ - he who is our strength and our
shield - our joy and our hope.

As People of the Way - as men and women who are priests or bridges between
God and the rest of the human family - as God's own people - chosen for
eternity by God himself - we are called to connect people to the Lord - to
bring them, perchance, to the Way that we have found.

We do that - not by apologizing to them about how Jesus claimed to be the
Son of the Most High God - and the way, the truth and life... but by
proclaiming in our words and in our deeds the  mighty acts of the one has
who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. 

We do it by proclaiming the acts that he has done for all people so that
   they might know His love: "dying he destroyed our death and rising he
   restored our life."
And by speaking the acts that he has done within our lives
   - the prayers answered
   - the teachings that we were given, especially those we received which
   we did not seek or want, 
   - the strength beyond ourselves that has sustained us when we ourselves
   were all done in,
   - the little miracles, the often unexpected miracles, that happen that
   bring ever new light and hope and peace into our lives and into the
   lives of others.

Our experience with Jesus is an experience that is meant to be shared - not
hidden for fear that we might somehow be offending others - that we might
somehow be judging others.

Think of Stephen - the first one follower of the way - the first follower
of Christ who was killed for his testimony.  We heard about his death and
his final testimony as he died in the second reading this morning.

As the stones of the angry mob fell on him, he prayed with great confidence
for himself: "Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit"
   and as he suffered and died he did not judge or condemn those who did
   not believe in the Way
but rather, as Christ himself did upon the cross for us, he prayed for them
saying: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." 

We here today who believe in Jesus are people of the Way.

Our job is to point to The Way - to point to Jesus - and to testify as to
who he is and what he has done,
   - with no apologies 
   - with no attempt to say what God will or not do to them if they refuse
   to listen to us
   - and with no judgment upon those who refuse to accept our testimony.

We are called to pray for others - that God will forgive their sins and
bring them to the dwelling place in the highest heaven prepared for them by
Christ even as proclaim by our words and by the quality of our love the
wonderful things that God has done for us - and for all humankind through
Him who is the Way - the Truth - and The Life.

Praise be to God - and to His Son - Christ Jesus our Lord, both now and
always.


* HYMN:  "How Great Thou Art"                                      - VU 238


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Truly O God you are great and greatly to be praised.   Through Christ Jesus
your Son you have shown yourself to us - for he is in you and you are in
him.   Grant, therefore, dear Father, that we come to him, the living
stone, rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in your sight - and
that like living stones, we ourselves may be built into a spiritual house,
a royal priesthood, your holy people, the temple of your presence in our
world....  Lord, hear our prayer...

We give thanks to You, O God, for in Christ Jesus you have conquered the
power of death and enabled us to face our own death and the loss of those
we love with trust and confidence.  Help us to live with joyful
anticipation of entering the heavenly places that he has prepared for us in
your House, and to show forth our hope in Him to all whom we meet before we
gather before your throne in Glory...  Lord, hear our prayer...

Father, we pray for your church, the church of Christ Jesus your son.  May
our life as your Holy People always be marked by faithful testimony in both
word and deed.  Like Jesus, may we be know as people of prayer and service
- truth and love - and mercy and help - especially for those who are in
need - those that our world rejects - those that without your Son in our
lives, we ourselves might turn away from...  Lord, hear our prayer..

Lord, we pray for people all over the world who long to see your Face and
do not know how to find you.  May they see you in us - and us in you -
through the loving care you call us to show.  We pray for the victims of
neglect and of oppression, for those scorned and mocked, for those who are
overlooked by the rest of our world.  May they be convinced that they are
precious in your sight and may their needs be met according to the
abundance of your grace....  Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for our families and for our neighbours - and for all
those whom you have placed upon our hearts this day - those who grieve and
those who rejoice - those who struggle with conflict in their families and
those whose celebrate new birth - those who need work - and those who need
a special healing - or a sense of peace to come over them.   Hear now the
prayers of thanksgiving and intercession we make for those  we name them
aloud before you at this time....  BIDDING PRAYER...

Loving God - do not let our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 
Rather fill our lives in deeds of devotion and service and help us to
follow Jesus, the way, the truth, and life, with joy and peace - knowing
that we are safe forever with him, who lives and reigns with the Holy
Spirit, one God, both now and forevermore.  Amen


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   Loving God, you have raised up Jesus from the dead and you have
   prepared a place in your eternal home for all who follow him.   We
   bring our lives and gifts to you as a sign of our new life and new
   hope in You.  May all that we say, and all that we do, be in
   response to your love - a love offered freely to all people through
   Christ our Lord.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "To Show By Touch and Word"                     - VU 427


* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.
                                     
                      
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace as people of the way, 
love and care for another in the name of Christ Jesus
- and may the blessings of his Father and ours go with you,
- may the Holy Spirit uphold you and sustain you,
- and may the Son shine upon the path you walk and guide you day by day,
till you join all the saints and angels arrive in the place of everlasting
glory.   Amen.


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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