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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 23 - Proper 18 - Year A
Romans 13:8-14; Psalm 149; Matthew 18:15-20
"Mending Bridges"


READING:  Romans 13:8-14; Psalm 149;  Matthew 18:15-20
SERMON :  "Mending Bridges"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or23sm 502000
                  
   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.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


* ENTRANCE & CANDLE LIGHTING


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (from Psalm 115)
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  Trust in the Lord, you people of Israel.  He helps you and
   protects you.
P  Trust in the Lord, you priests of God.  He helps you and
   protects you.
L  Trust in the Lord, all you that worship him.  He helps you
   and protects you.
P  The Lord remembers us and will bless us.  God blesses
   everyone who honours him, the great and the small alike.


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


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION:
Loving God - we thank you for your all embracing love - for how
you not only hold us by our hand as we learn how to walk in your
ways - but also for how you hold us and our world in your heart
both in the daytime and in the night .  We praise you, O God, for
your tender love and we thank you for your mercy and your grace. 
As we meet together before you now we ask guide and lead us by
the power of your living power in the way we should go.  May our
song, our prayer, our speaking and our listening, our thinking
and our doing give you glory, both now and forevermore.  Amen


* HYMN: ""Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"                 - VU 232


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
Gathering in of prayer 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 ROMANS 13:8-14
   (NRSV)  Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for
   the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. {9} The
   commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not
   murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any
   other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your
   neighbour as yourself." {10} Love does no wrong to a
   neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. {11}
   Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the
   moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to
   us now than when we became believers; {12} the night is far
   gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of
   darkness and put on the armour of light; {13} let us live
   honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness,
   not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and
   jealousy. {14} Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and
   make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

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


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Cleaning Up"
Object:   Smudge (Water Soluble Felt Pen) and a Rag and Bottle
          of Water
Theme:    Sin marks us.  We seek cleansing.
Source:   Self

Put felt pen mark on forehead as invite children forward.  Bring
bag with jar of water and clothe in it.  Ask: how many of you
know what sin is???   Sin is when we do things that are wrong -
things that hurt God and other people, things forbidden us by God
because they are not loving towards him, towards others, or
towards ourselves.

Can you give me any examples of sin???   
How many of you here today have brothers and sisters?  Do you
ever get angry at them?  Why???

What do you do when someone hurts you or your friends?  When
someone sins against you?   (Hit them back.  Feel bad.   Feel
Angry.  Tell others.)  

A lot of people tell everyone else   "Hey everyone - John is bad. 
Look at what Dawn did to me.  Did you see that Richard hit me. 
Do you know that Judy took some stuff from my room without
asking.  He broke the window.   She set fire to the garbage.  He
took my cookies."  And so on and on.  

Tell me - do you think that helps you - when you complain about
other people?  Does it help the person who did the bad thing to
you?  Does it help them change their minds about being bad?  Or
do you think it might make them worse?

Ask you a question.   How do think the person feels who did
something bad and everyone is staring at him or her?  Pretty bad
eh?  Like there was a big mark on them -- staining their
forehead.  And in a sense there is -- because Sin does leave a
mark on us - it hurts the person who sins as much as the person
who is sinned against.

Sin is an ugly matter.  But Jesus says we can do something about
it.  We can try to take away its effects.  Last week we talked
about how Christians are supposed to bless those who curse and do
good to those who do bad things to us   that it is up to God to
take revenge not us.  This week Jesus tells us that if we have
something against our brother or sister - that we think they have
sinned against us - that we should talk privately to them about
it and try to solve the problem - rather than telling everyone
else.  

He says "If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him
his fault, privately, and if he listen to you, then you have won
your brother back."

That is kind of like taking this cloth - and some water - and
washing away the mark on my head.  It makes everybody feel
better.

Sometimes of course your brother will not listen to you - or you
sister -- but we are still not to go around telling everybody how
awful the person is - you are not to put a mark on them -- rather
you are asked to go with two or three neutral people to try to
work things out -- and so on.

The whole aim of the Christian life is not to make other people
pay for their sins - to curse them or hurt them back -- but to
try to bring healing to them and yourself - to try to wash away
the marks - the marks it leaves on others - and on yourself. 
Sometimes that is very hard to do - but we can't do it if we
don't try.  

   LET US PRAY: Dear Lord God   when someone hurts us   help
   us to talk to them   help us to try to fix things up  
   rather than to hurt them back   help us to love   the
   people we do not like   and dear God -- those who do not
   listen   we ask that you take care of them.   Amen


HYMN:  "Jesus, Our Brother"                               - VU 56


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 149 (VU 873) and sung Refrain


A READING FROM MATTHEW 18:15-20
   (NRSV) "If another member of the church sins against you,
   go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
   If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.
   {16} But if you are not listened to, take one or two
   others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed
   by the evidence of two or three witnesses. {17} If the
   member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
   and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church,
   let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
   {18} Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be
   bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be
   loosed in heaven. {19} Again, truly I tell you, if two of
   you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done
   for you by my Father in heaven. {20} For where two or
   three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

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


* HYMN: "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love"             - VU 593


SERMON: "Mending Bridges"

   Lord, we would follow thee.  We would be and do all that
   you have created us to be and do.  Guide, O Lord, the
   words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - at
   this time - and indeed always.  Amen
 
Paul writes:  Owe no one anything, except to love
              one another - for the one who loves
              another has fulfilled the law.

This is a beautiful exhortation - but what happens when the love
is not there?

What happens when our neighbour hurts us instead of loves us?
What happens when a brother or sister in the Lord sins against
us?

What then should we do?  What then do we owe?

Think of the worst thing that someone has done to you...

Perhaps it was a promotion that should have gone to you
but went instead to someone else because of their deceit.  
   Or maybe it was the way you got cheated on a business
   deal, or received less than you thought you were entitled
   to because someone else interfered.
       Maybe it was the way someone lied, or stole, 
       or hurt you in some way that was deeply painful.  

Remember?  

I expect you do, for it is very difficult to forget such
injustices.

Now - ask yourself - what should I do about such injustices?

Jesus sets out a set of guidelines for us in today's gospel
reading by which we can deal with these kinds of situations.

The guidelines are meant for those within the church
   for those who assemble together in his name, yet - for one
   reason or another, end up being offended against by one of
   their fellow believers.

THE VERY FIRST PRINCIPLE IS THIS - the person who is offended
against is called to take the initiative in seeking
reconciliation, in seeking to make things right once again.

If you are hurt by someone - and if you think that it is serious 
   - if it is serious enough, in other words, for you to brood
   over, 
   - serious enough that you find yourself wanting to mention it
   to others,
   - serious enough that you are facing the temptation of
   gossiping about the person who has sinned against you in some
   way -
then you are called to take action
and to try to heal the breach that has opened up between you and
your neighbour.

Very few people are fond of confrontation.  Letting things slide,
letting them go - and brooding about them at the same time - is
often our preferred course of action.

There are different reasons offered as to why people will not
confront those who have hurt them or sinned against them.

Some people have the idea that Christians are not supposed to get
angry, let alone confront others with their anger.  
   So they avoid the person who has offended them; they turn
   away from dealing with the person who has sinned against
   them. 

Others believe that the person who has offended is the one who
should reach out and seek to repair the rift in the relationship
- and while this would be very nice - it is hopelessly
idealistic.  

First of all - the person who has offended may not realize that
she or he has done so;
- so why would they apologize?

and second - even if the person realizes that they have offended 
   - they simply may not care 
   - or they may not realize what is at stake and hope that time
   will bring a healing without any action being necessary.  It
   is, after all, hard to confess.

What is at stake when sin is not dealt with is our peace - and
the peace within our community, and the salvation of the person
who has sinned against us.

William Blake - in his poem "A Poison Tree" wrote these words:

       I was angry with my friend,
       I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
       I was angry with my foe,
       I told it not, my wrath did grow.

If we are concerned about an offense that has been committed
against us -
we are called to take action to resolve the situation
we are called to speak of our wrath, and thus, hopefully, put it
to an end.

THE SECOND GUIDELINE that Jesus gives us for dealing with those
who have sinned against us in today's gospel reading is this -
attempt to set the matter straight privately.

As a person who occasionally - and without malice or forethought
- offends others, I can tell you that nothing hurts me more than
to discover months later from someone else that I have hurt a
friend of theirs and of mine.

Someone recently had a beef with me and I did not find out about
it and get the opportunity to deal with the concerned party until
after a couple of other people talked to me about the situation.

My embarrassment and my shame were only matched by the anger that
I felt towards the person whom I had accidentally offended.  Why
I wondered, did that person not come to me immediately with his
concern instead of broadcasting it to his friends?  Why could he
not confront me and tell me that I had offended him?

The situation was worked out, but the whole affair was more
complicated than it needed to be, and the emotional costs were
higher than they should have been, and all because no effort was
made by the offended person to resolve the situation personally.

   If any member of the church sins against you, go and point
   out the fault when the two of you are alone.  If the
   member listens to you, you have regained that one. 

But what happens if the person who has sinned against us refuses
to listen to us?
   if they refuse to understand where we are coming from?
       if they remain adamant that they were in the right and
       that your opinion does not matter to them?
          if they are unrepentant?

JESUS OFFERS TO US A THIRD PRINCIPLE or guideline to cover these
cases - he suggests as a next step that: 

   "if you are not listened to, take one or two others along
   with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the
   evidence of two or three witnesses."  

And again he says

   "If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the
   church - here he means a group of caring and discerning
   fellow believers - and if the offender refuse to listen
   even to the church - let such a one be to you as a Gentile
   and a tax collector."

That about covers Jesus' instructions about how to deal with
those who offend against us.  
   If your brother or sister sins against you - tell them
   about it, privately.  If that doesn't work, take them
   before someone else and allow the wisdom of the group to
   deal with it, and if that still doesn't work take them
   before the whole church.  And if that fails - treat the
   offender like a Gentile and a tax collector.

Jesus' instructions are quite simple, and even if the first step
- taking the initiative - and the second step - confronting the
offender privately - goes against our natural inclinations, the
process works..

Either you win back your brother or sister - they repent and
harmony is restored between you - or the offender, by his or her
own choice, is disposed of. and this with the support and
approval of the entire community.

That would seem to be the end of the matter - we are either able
to mend our fences by following the instructions of Jesus - or we
are not able to mend our fences - and no blame attaches itself to
us in the process - because we have done all that we should.

But that is not the end of the matter -
   - it is not the end of the matter because we are not asked to
   take the initiative and deal with those who have sinned
   against us so that we might be found blameless,
       - nor are we called to take the initiative and deal with
       them so we might have our revenge.
          - but we are called to deal with them - and just as
          importantly - with our own pain and hurt so that there
          may be peace and joy and justice in the body of Christ
          - we are called to take the initiative so that sinners
          might repent and know the blessings of harmony and
          peace amongst God's people, 
              - and so that we might know the joy of being in a
              good relationship with all, and that we might know
              the peace that comes when we do not have a burning
              anger in our hearts.

Resolving differences - confronting sin and calling others to
repentance - is a process that is beneficial to everyone - not
just to those who are sinners.  It is a matter of salvation - for
the sinner and for those who are sinned against.

And it is in that spirit that we must understand Jesus' words
about those who do not repent when confronted by the whole church
- the words that say - and I will read them again - "And if that
fails - if they do not repent - treat them like a Gentile and a
tax collector."

Let us recall that the one who speaks these words is the one of
whom it was said

   "Now the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to
   him."  And the people murmured against Jesus, saying,
   "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

Let us also recall that Jesus said to those who criticized the
company he kept:

   "If you are sick, you have no need of a doctor.  I've come
   to seek and to save the lost."

Let us also recall that, as Matthew records, at his birth the
first to show up at Bethlehem to see him were the magi - Gentiles
from the East....
   And one of the first healings, recorded in the gospel of
   Matthew, was the healing of a servant of a gentile army
   officer...
       And that one day, Jesus called a man named Matthew to be
       his disciple - and do your remember what Matthew did for a
       living when Jesus called him?....   He was not a gentile -
       but he was a tax collector.

Get my drift?

Jesus, concludes his conversation about how to deal with those
who have offended us by saying - "Where two or three are gathered
in my name, I am there among them."

If we are going to be with Jesus - then we must be among the
people he chose to be with - sinners, Gentiles, and tax
collectors.

We are not called to be among them as unrepentant sinners - nor
are we called to be among the people he has called as judges - we
are called to be among them as ones who owe nothing to anyone -
but love.

We can't always mend the fences, we can't always make peace with
those who sin against us - but we can try - and when we fail - we
can still love them as we love ourselves.

God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, says: 

   I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather
   that they turn from their ways and live

We will go a long way towards mending our fences
   a long way towards healing our broken relationships when we
   remember these words, and take the initiative in dealing with
   those who sin against us privately - and, when necessary,
   with witnesses.

If our efforts, and the efforts of the church fail to bring about
change then we will do God's will and help bring healing if we
remember what God has pleasure in - and treat those who have
offended against us as we ourselves have been treated by God -
with mercy and compassion.

The rest is between God and them.  Amen.
 

PRAYER OF THE DAY 
Lord  - help us to love one another as you love us - help us to
reach out to those who have offended  us and hurt us and seek
reconciliation.  Strip from us the pride that prevents us from
going first and  the pain that stops us from opening our hearts
to those who have sinned against us.  We pray today O God, for
all those who suffer because of broken relationships - for
fathers who cannot talk to their sons - for mothers who cannot
get along with their daughters - for children who cannot reach
their parents - for friends who have become divided...  We pray
too for nations who war and peoples who hate one another -- Lord
hear our prayer....

Hear too O God our prayers for the special people and the
particular events that lie upon our hearts this day --

We hold before you those of our own community who are in need....
   - For Leonard as he is tested and operated on in San Diego,
   and for his family....
   - for the Jaswell Family in the loss of their son.
   - for Karl and Johanna
   - for Mandy, Lana, Danielle, Brandon, and Brian
   - for Skylar and all the little ones battling disease
   - for Dorothy Marshall
Lord, hear our prayer....

We give thanks today
   - for bringing to our midst Tim and Marika, TJ, KK, Wesley,
   and Robert   as we know they bless your name for bringing us
   to them.
   - 

We ask you to hear all our prayers, O God, in the name of the one
who taught us to pray to you as one family, saying... OUR FATHER


* HYMN: "Amazing Grace"                                  - VU 266


* 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

   Gracious God - as we present to you our tithes and
   offerings we pray that you would help us to remember that
   all we have comes from you.  Bless what is upon these
   plates and what is in our hearts that together we may
   bring you glory and show forth the wonder and the power of
   your love to the world.  We ask it in Jesus' name.


* DEPARTING HYMN: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"     - VU 333


* 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 - love and care for one another in the name of Christ
and may The Lord bless you and keep you, 
may the Lord make his face to shine upon you 
and be gracious unto you, 
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace, 
now and forevermore.  Amen


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

 
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1999, 2002 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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