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Sermon and Liturgy for The First Sunday in Lent - Year A
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19 and Matthew 4:1-11
"Sin and Despair, Salvation and Hope"


READING:  Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19 and Matthew 4:1-11
SERMON :  "Sin and Despair, Salvation and Hope"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-le01sesm 469655
                   
     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.
	 
     Sermon citations from Kenneth Filkin's poem entitled "The Pit."


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)

                     
* 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  We are summoned by a gracious and merciful God.
   He calls us into solemn assembly.
P  God puts his Spirit within us and gives us hope for our lives.
   We gather in reverence and wonder, rejoicing in what he has
   done for us.
L  Remembering the sacrifice made for us, 
   we are called to confess to God our sin 
   and to repent of all that we have done to offend him.
P  We will praise God for showing us mercy 
   and ask his help in being holy as he is holy.
L  God assists all who call upon him in spirit and in truth.
P  He showers blessings upon those who hunger and thirst for
   righteousness.
L  We do not live by bread alone, 
P  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
L  We will worship the Lord our God and serve only him.


* INTROIT: "What Does The Lord Require of You" (VU 701) 


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
O God of love and blessing - O most holy one above -- once again as
we enter the forty days of Lent, help us honour our beginnings in
you.  Help us to remember that it was in a beautiful garden that
our journey with you began.  In our attempts to understand your
purpose for us, give us open hearts and minds.  Guide as we
struggle to understand that it is not ourselves we need to deny,
but those things  that distract us from being our true selves with
you and with one another.  Send your Spirit upon us  and lead us in
the way we should go as we worship you in this hour - and in all
the hours to come  before we celebrate the mystery of the cross and
of the resurrection.


* HYMN:  "Giver of The Perfect Gift"                     - VU 116


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
  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, thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!  (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)


A READING FROM GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  (NRSV)   The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of
   Eden to till it and keep it. {16} And the LORD God commanded
   the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; {17}
   but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not
   eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."  Now the
   serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the
   LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You
   shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" {2} The woman said
   to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the
   garden; {3} but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of
   the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you
   touch it, or you shall die.'" {4} But the serpent said to the
   woman, "You will not die; {5} for God knows that when you eat
   of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,
   knowing good and evil." {6} So when the woman saw that the tree
   was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and
   that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of
   its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who
   was with her, and he ate. {7} Then the eyes of both were
   opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig
   leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


* HYMN:  "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus"                  - VU 357


A READING FROM ROMANS 5:12-19
   (NRSV)  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one
   man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all
   because all have sinned-- {13} sin was indeed in the world
   before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.
   {14} Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over
   those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who
   is a type of the one who was to come. {15} But the free gift is
   not like the trespass.  For if the many died through the one
   man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the
   free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded
   for the many. {16} And the free gift is not like the effect of
   the one man's sin.  For the judgment following one trespass
   brought condemnation, but the free gift following many
   trespasses brings justification. {17} If, because of the one
   man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much
   more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and
   the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life
   through the one man, Jesus Christ. {18} Therefore just as one
   man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of
   righteousness leads to justification and life for all. {19} For
   just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made
   sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made
   righteous.

L  This is the Word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 32 (Voices United, page 759) and Sung Refrain


CHOIR ANTHEM:


A READING FROM MATTHEW 4:1-11
   (NRSV)  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness
   to be tempted by the devil. {2} He fasted forty days and forty
   nights, and afterwards he was famished. {3} The tempter came
   and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these
   stones to become loaves of bread." {4} But he answered, "It is
   written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word
   that comes from the mouth of God.'" {5} Then the devil took him
   to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
   {6} saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself
   down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning
   you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you
   will not dash your foot against a stone.'" {7} Jesus said to
   him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the
   test.'" {8} Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain
   and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their
   splendor; {9} and he said to him, "All these I will give you,
   if you will fall down and worship me." {10} Jesus said to him,
   "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord
   your God, and serve only him.'" {11} Then the devil left him,
   and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

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


* HYMN: "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"               - VU 356


SERMON:  Sin and Despair, Salvation and Hope 

   God of law and of love, dispenser of justice and of mercy, judge
   of our actions and saviour of our lives -- help us to hear your
   word this day.  Bless my lips and our hearts - so that in
   speaking and in hearing your will may be known and that which you
   want us to have and do may be had and done - we ask it though
   Christ our Lord.  Amen

Our texts today deal with sin and temptation and with grace and
faith.
   - the first text tells us the story of how Adam and Eve were
   tempted and sinned against God in the Garden of Eden.
   - the second shows Christ living blamelessly in the face of
   evil, by the power of faith.

Temptation and sin, grace and faith - these are the great motifs of
our lives here and now in the world - the axes around which
everything else revolves.

As Christians we believe that sin has power - a deadly power - that
comes from evil;
but we also believe that faith has power - a live giving power that
comes from God.

In our lives we experience a struggle between these two powers, 
   and even when we are on the side of life, even when we have
   faith in the God of life 
   we experience temptation,  we feel desires and live through
events that test our faith  and seek to lure us away from God and
have us serve evil instead.

 There is an old Scandinavian legend about mighty Thor and how one
day he visited the land of the giants.

   When Thor arrived there he found that the giants were
   engaged in various contests of strength.  They asked him if
   he would like to take part in their games and he said that
   he would.  So it was that they proposed three tests of
   strength for him.

   First Thor was asked to drink all the liquid in a large two
   handed drinking bowl.  But as much as he could drink of it,
   only a tiny portion of the liquid in it disappeared. 
   Finally he had to put down the bowl and admit defeat.  To
   him the giants seemed sympathetic - and they proposed
   something a bit easier for his second test.

   A black cat was walking by and Thor was instructed to lift
   it up.  He grabbed hold of the animal, thinking it should be
   easy to hoist it up, but strain and tug as hard as he could,
   he couldn't even begin to budge the cat.

   By this time the giants were beginning to be openly amused
   at Thor's predicament.  "You are supposed to be strong",
   they said, "but it seems you are not.  Well - we will give
   you something even easier for your third test."

   So for the third test the giants challenged Thor to wrestle
   with an old woman and throw her to the ground.  With every
   bit of strength that Thor could muster he grabbed hold of
   the toothless old woman, but all his pushing and pulling and
   twisting was in vain.  He simply could not meet the
   challenge.

   As Thor, humbled and dejected, left the giants to head back
   home, one of them went with him for a part of the way and
   told him that their was magic in the contests.  "The cup,"
   he said, "contained the sea and who can drink that?  The cat
   was the evil in the world, and who is able to lift that up
   and take it away?  And the old woman was time, and who is
   able to contend with her?"

I believe that most of us feel, when it comes to the sin that is in
the world, that we are living in the land of giants.  

We are tempted to give in to despair - the despair that nothing we
can do will make a difference; the despair that says that there is
no help or hope for us our for our world.

Indeed I believe that this is the greatest temptation of our age.

But my friends, we have within us one who is stronger than the world,
one who is greater than the tempter, one who has triumphed over evil
both in life - as we see in the story of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness,
and in death - as we see in the cross - and again three days later
- in the resurrection.

Some people - most people perhaps - dwell too much on the negative
side of things.  Like the game show Jeopardy - all their answers to
life's problems are expressed in the form of questions.  They see 
the problems that exist all round us - but do not lay hold of the
solutions - of the good news that also exists all round us - of the
salvation that is offered to us all - without condition or
qualification.

They despair on account of the giants -
forgetting perhaps the story of David -
and of how one small stone in his hands brought an end to the
Goliath that threatened his nation
that caused even Saul and his mighty army to despair of ever being
victorious.

A man by the name of Richard Lederer collects funny signs.  Some of
these are simply the result of people in foreign countries having
difficulty translating into English.  He says that at the entrance
to a hotel swimming pool on the French Riviera there is a sign that
reads like this: "Swimming is forbidden in the absence of a
saviour."

Maybe the person who put up that sign knew English better than we
may suppose. Not only swimming but life itself should not be lived
in the absence of  a Saviour. 

We have a saviour - one who remembers who we are - one who loves us
as a father loves his children - one who seeks to nurture us as a
mother nurtures her brood.

This saviour has ventured into the same waters that we swim in each day.
He has battled the currents - fought the foes - and shown that he is able
and shown that we - when we swim with him - are able as well.

Our saviour remembers who we are - and he loves us - and seeks the
best for us.
He knows that we are weak swimmers -
that we from time to time we will flounder and thrash - and sink.
He knows the waters we are in -
and that is why he has been appointed the judge of the living and the dead.

Our saviour is our judge.
He does not judge us for the sake of condemning us -
he takes no delight in catching us in our sin
he has no joy when we hurt ourselves or hurt others - 
rather he reaches out to us - he calls to us - he seeks to guide us
and help us -
and like all good parents - he forgives us and does all that he can
to make sure that we start each day  new and fresh and bathed in
love.
 
Kenneth Filkins has caught this beautifully in a poem entitled "The
Pit."  Let me share just a little bit of it with you: Visualize, if
you will a great pit - a pit perhaps of your own devising - or
perhaps one devised for you by others - visualize  a pit into which
you have fallen and cannot get out of.

Filkins writes:  A man fell into a pit and he couldn't get out. 
   BUDDHA said: "Your pit is only a state of mind." 
   A HINDU said: "This pit is for purging you and making you more
   perfect." 
   CONFUCIUS said: "If you would have listened to me, you would
   never have fallen into that pit." 
   A NEW AGER said: "Maybe you should network with some other pit
   dwellers." 
   A SELF-PITYING PERSON said: "You haven't seen anything until
   you've seen my pit." 
   A NEWS REPORTER said: "Could I have the exclusive story on your
   pit?" 
   A FEDERAL BUREAUCRAT said: "Have you paid your taxes on that
   pit?" 
   A COUNTY INSPECTOR said: "Do you have a permit for that pit?" 
   A REALIST said: "That's a pit." 
   An IDEALIST said: "The world shouldn't have pits." 
   An OPTIMIST said: "Things could be worse." 
   A PESSIMIST said: "Things will get worse." 
BUT JESUS, SEEING THE MAN, TOOK HIM BY THE HAND AND LIFTED HIM
      OUT OF THE PIT.

A pit is an awful place to be -particularly the pit of created by
the power of sin and temptation. 
But there is One who will help. 
There is one who has managed to avoid the pit and who seeks to help
us out of the pit.
His name is Jesus - and he lives and reigns with God - and with God
he is able -
able to help - able to save - able to redeem

Not only is he able - he is willing.

And not only is he willing - he has already acted - acted to save
us -
acted to bring to the world a new day.
Acted to bring to each of us a new life.

Do not dwell in the pit - Do not accept the pit -
Rather reach out your hand to the one who has stretched out his
hands for you -
and who still reaches out for you today.
Reach out to Christ -
and through Christ - reach out to others around you
and let the know that there is a better life to be had -
a life that is given freely to all who desire it.


----  Check out George Hartwell's Creative Closings - Lent 1 - Year A 
for a prayer meditation with which to conclude the sermon and/or 
lead into the prayer time below.


* HYMN:  "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"                - VU 664


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
O God, on this first Sunday in Lent, we remember the road to the
cross that Jesus travelled for our sake and we confess our sin
before you.  We remember how Jesus lived and died for us and we
confess before you what we have done to offend you and to harm our
neighbours, and ourselves.
      .............. (silent prayer) ...............
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love. 
According to your abundant mercy blot out our transgressions. 
Create in us a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within
us.  Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and sustain in us a
willing spirit according to your word.... Lord hear our prayer...

Bless this day, O God, those around us who dwell in darkness -
those who are mired in the pit of guilt and sadness - let them know
your great love for them and cause them to reach out to you as you
reach out to them.... Lord  hear our prayer...

Bless those who suffer today - whether because of their own sin -
or because of the sin of others.  Bring justice to those places
where it is needed, and grant mercy and new life to all who require
it.  Move your people  everywhere, O God, to ever greater works of
compassion and of love and give to all the saving vision of your
son Jesus Christ...  Lord hear our prayer...

Bless this day, we pray, O God, those who grieve and let them know
your mercy and all your promises.  Lift them from despair and grant
to them the assurance of your healing and saving love....  Lord
hear our prayer....

Bless those in our family and our community - and those in the
world around us - whom we name before you at this time....  Lord
hear our prayer...

We ask all these things through Jesus Christ our Lord - he who
taught us to pray as one family to you, saying, OUR FATHER...


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* 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

   Lord, we pray that you will receive these gifts from our
   hands and accept all that we offer to you during the coming
   days.  Bless our thoughts and our actions.  Make us worthy
   servants of your grace - light that shines in the darkness
   of our world.  Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "O Jesus, I Have Promised"            - VU 120


* 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
Go in peace, and may the Lord our God - the Father, the Son, and
The Holy Spirit, bless you and keep you - both now and forevermore. 
Amen. 


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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