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Sermon and Liturgy On The First Reading - Ordinary 26 - Proper 21 - Year A
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Matthew 21:23-32
"Harden Not Your Hearts"

READING:  Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Matthew 21:23-32
SERMON :  "Harden Not Your Hearts"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or21sesu 331846
                  
   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 (based on Romans 11:33-36)
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  I will praise thee, O Lord with my whole heart.
P  How great are the depths of the riches of the wisdom and
   knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgements and
   how inscrutable are his ways!
L  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Who has been his
   counsellor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay
   him?
P  For from God and through God and to God are all things. To
   Him be the glory forever.


* INTROIT: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (VU-315, verse 1)


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION:
Let us Pray - Loving God, Father and Mother of us all, through
Christ Jesus your son and our brother you have gathered us
together to worship you and to discern your will for our lives. 
We pray, O God, for your wisdom to enlighten us, your judgements
to guide us, and your love to fill us.  Help us to build our
lives on the foundation laid for us by Christ - and may our
prayer and our praise bring glory to your name.  Amen.  


* HYMN: "Teach Me God To Wonder"                         - VU 299


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 EXODUS 17:1-7
   (NRSV)  From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of
   the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded.
   They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the
   people to drink. {2} The people quarrelled with Moses, and
   said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do
   you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" {3} But the
   people thirsted there for water; and the people complained
   against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt,
   to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" {4}
   So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this
   people? They are almost ready to stone me." {5} The LORD said
   to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the
   elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with
   which you struck the Nile, and go. {6} I will be standing
   there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock,
   and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink."
   Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. {7} He
   called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites
   quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us
   or not?"

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


CHILDREN'S TIME: ""
Object:   Hiking Bag or Pack
Theme:    Looking Ahead in Faith - Not Down at Troubles
Source:   Self

Good morning....  Today I brought this (show pack) to remind me
of a time when I was a small child - of about six years old.  How
many know what one of these is used for (bicycle bag, school
pack, hiking trip).  A useful thing - to carry supplies in when
we go on a walk or for a ride.

When I was six my father took me for a long walk in the rain
forest on Vancouver Island.  We got to this big stream and the
water was running very fast and it was deep and the banks of the
stream were very steep and there were rocks everywhere   have you
ever seen something like that???.... (lots like it here in the
Rockies).  

The only way across the stream was an old log that had fallen
across the stream and my father said that we had to go across it
if we were to get back to the car by sunset.  Have you ever had
to cross a big ditch or a creek on a log or plank???   Were you
frightened???   I was the first time - and even now it is a scary
thing.  I told my father that I didn't want to do it   that I was
scared.  But he told me that we had to go that way if we were to
get out of the woods by dark and to not be afraid.  So, he went
out on the log first ahead of me - and called to me to follow
him.  I started off, I took just a few steps - but then I looked
down and saw all the rocks and the fast water - and it was loud -
and I stopped.  I got scared all over again and grabbed hold of a
broken branch that was sticking up out of the log and refused to
go on.  My father called to me and said that there was a trick to
crossing over logs that would make it easier to get to the other
side.  Do you know what that trick might be????

My father said the trick was to not look down - but to look at
him - and look at the other side where I was going to.  So I
looked at him as he walked over in front of me - and I looked at
the other side - and I made it.  I was scared - but I was able to
go on.

The reading we heard today is about how the people of Israel were
afraid to go on through the wilderness of Sinai - how they were
afraid to follow Moses because they thought they might die of
thirst and hunger.  But Moses tells them to remember how God
looked after them in Egypt - and to trust him to look after them
now as they travelled towards the promised land.

The bible teaches us what my father taught me that day on the
log.  When we get into difficult situations - when we are
frightened and afraid to move forward - if we look ahead of us
instead of down at our troubles - if we look to our heavenly
father instead of at the swirling waters - we will be able to get
through our difficulties.

Next time you are afraid - don't think about the danger - but
instead call out to God - and remember that he is leading you to
a better place - and that as you look to him you will be able to
get through.

   Let us Pray: Loving God   Help us every day   to look up
   at you   instead of down at our troubles   help us to
   trust in your love   and to know you will keep us safe  
   we ask it in Jesus' name   Amen.


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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 95 (VU 814) and Sung Refrain


A READING FROM MATTHEW 21:23-32
   (NKJV)  And when He had come into the temple, the chief 
   priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He 
   was teaching, and said, By what authority do you do these
   things?  And who gave you this authority? 
   
   And Jesus answered and said to them, I will also ask you 
   one thing; which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you 
   by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John,
   where was it from? From Heaven or from men? 
   
   And they reasoned within themselves, saying, If we shall 
   say, From Heaven, he will say to us, Why then did you not 
   believe him?  But if we shall say From men, we fear the 
   people; for all consider John as a prophet.  And they 
   answered Jesus and said, We cannot tell. 
   
   And He said to them, Neither do I tell you by what authority 
   I do these things. But what do you think? A man had two sons;
   and he came to the first and said, Son, go work in my vineyard 
   today. He answered and said, I will not. But afterwards he 
   repented and went.  And he came to the second and said likewise. 
   And he answered and said, I go, sir; and did not go.  Which of 
   the two did the will of his father? 
   
   They said to Him, The first. 
   
   Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you that the tax-collectors 
   and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.  For 
   John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not
   believe him. But the tax-collectors and the harlots believed 
   him. And when you had seen it, you did not repent afterwards 
   so that you might believe him.  
   
L  This is the gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN: "At The Name of Jesus"                           - VU 335


SERMON:  "Harden Not Your Hearts"

   Let us Pray:  Breathe on us, O God, that we may be filled
   with your Spirit - and led by your living word - Jesus
   Christ our Lord.  Bless the word of my lips and the
   meditations of our hearts.  We ask it in his name.  Amen.

Listen to these words,
words that are recited in many traditions of our faith
almost every day of the year
as part of the gathering prayer
the gathering psalm of the faithful.

   O today that you would harken to God's voice!

   Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, 
   as on that day at Massah in the wilderness 
   when you forebears tried me and put me to the test
   though they had seen my works.
 
   Forty years I loathed that generation, and said,
   They are a people whose hearts are perverse,
   for they give no heed to my ways.
   Therefore I swore in my anger 
   that they shall not enter my rest.

For many years I puzzled about this portion of Psalm 95.

I wondered
   - why is it so harsh?
   - why does the judgement of God come down so hard upon the
   people of Israel at Meribah?
   - what significance did the event there have?

They are difficult passages
   these stories of Meribah and Massah,
       they are passages that deal with God's judgement
          and that is always hard for people to deal with.

I want us to today to think about the story of Meribah and
Massah.  And, as we do so, I would like us all to ask ourselves
the question: "are the people described in these stories a people
like us?"  Or, put another way, "Are we like them?"

Let us begin by looking at what happened at Meribah.

The book of Exodus tells us that after miraculously escaping from
Egypt and from Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea, the people moved
from place to place in the desert of Sin, just as the Lord
commanded.

When the people hungered and demanded food,
   God provided them with food, 
       both quails and manna.
                                                 
When the people thirsted and demanded water, God provided it - 
first by showing Moses how to sweeten the bitter waters at Marah 
and then by leading Moses and the people of Israel to the 12
springs of Elim.

The people had ample experience of the power and the love of God.

One day, as Exodus 17 tells us,
the people arrived at a place called Rephidim,
and there was no water to be found there.

The people, as they had before, began to quarrel with Moses. 
They ask him to provide water for them.  They question him and
God, saying:

       "why did you bring us out of Egypt to make us and
       our children and livestock die of thirst"

Moses is frustrated and     he asks the people  "why do you put the
Lord to the test?" and then he asks God, "What am I to do with
these people? They are almost ready to stone me"        

And God - as we heard this morning - 
   tells Moses to walk on ahead of the people,
   taking with him some of the elders of the people & his staff
          and to stand by a particular rock, 
              and hit it with his staff.

Moses does as he is commanded,
   he goes to the rock with the elders,
       he strikes it,
          and water flows forth;
              it flows abundantly,
                 and the people are satisfied.

Moses then names the place associated with this event
    Meribah - which means quarrelling
       and Massah - which means testing.

A simple tale,
yet one that is mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

Now - ask yourselves - 
   what is the great sin committed at Meribah?
       Ask as well -  do we commit that sin?
          Are we like the people there?

As you think about these questions let me tell you another story,
   a story that is more contemporary,
       a story that has happened to many people,
          perhaps even to you.

   A certain child lived off the income of its parents.  It
   is, after all the natural way that children are nurtured. 
   He received food, clothing, shelter and education.  He got
   an allowance, and finally, when he went to university, his
   parents sent him money each month to pay his room and
   board.  The child used to communicate each week with his
   parents, but, as his life got busier, he would forget to
   write or call, and he would not be home when his parents
   called him.  Each month however his cheque arrived in the
   mail.  Over time, as the child need's grew and he spent
   more money on things he wanted, he found that it was very
   difficult to meet his payments for books and clothing and
   food.  Finally, desperate and afraid, he wrote his parents
   and asked for more money.

   The parents either couldn't or wouldn't send the desired
   money and told him so.  They soon received a terse reply
   from their child.

   Do you love me or not?

Did the parents love the child?  

That is Israel's question to Moses at Meribah and Massah,
and through Moses it is their question to God.

Another question, however, can be put to these two tales,

Did the child love the parents? 
Did Israel trust God to do the right thing?
Did Israel love God?  

This too is a question we need to ask ourselves in relationship
to our faith in Christ.  Do we love Him.  Do we really trust him? 

The people of Israel, in their wanderings in the desert,
   continually sought for new proof of God's love.
When things did not go their way,
   when what they wanted did not appear immediately,
   or in the fashion that they expected,
they began to doubt God and accuse Him of not caring for them.

The great sin of Meribah and Massah
is not the sin of asking that their needs be met by God
that is not a sin at all, it something we are encouraged to do,
"give us this day our daily bread"
rather the sin of Meribah and Massah
   is the sin of unbelief,
   the sin of doubt and of grumbling against God within that doubt.

Psalm 95 calls this sin "hardness of heart"
which is nothing more than the refusal to believe in God's love
and to trust in God's providence
despite all the evidence,
despite all the good things 
that God has so clearly done.

Think about what has God done in your life.
And thinking about it,
ask yourself, do I doubt God's goodness when I am in trouble?
Do I complain about God and his intentions towards me
when I get into trouble?

The sin of Meribah and Masseh is hardness of heart.

The miracle of Meribah on the other hand
   is not the fact that Moses got water to flow from a rock,
It is that God,
   despite the attitude of the people,
   despite their grumbling and complaining
provided them with what they needed.

But there is a catch to this tale of grace and love.
   
God does provides those who test him with what they need,
    as he provided for his people at Meribah,
but God, after a while, can become frustrated with us.

God knows what people need.
He knows and he provides.
   
But in the face of their continuous doubt,
   in the face of the their continuous refusal to believe in Him
   despite all the things that he has done for them,
God finally allows the people to wander in their errors.

He allows them to wander in the desert of loneliness, fear, and
doubt until they finally learn what they should know, what they
need to know.

God cares for us.
But we - like the people of Israel, cannot enter his rest
until we understand that he cares,
and embrace him as they have been embraced by him.

People who continually test God, 
   people who continually demand proof of his love,
       simply will not reach their promised rest,
          They will not reach it, 
              because they themselves reject it.

As the Scripture says,  "They are a people who err in their
                        hearts".
   
If our hearts stay closed
If we refuse to trust in and believe in God and his goodness
we run the risk of missing the goal of our faith,
we run the risk of wandering around in the wilderness
even though the promised land is so very very close at hand.

That, my friends, is why Psalm 95 has a call in it.  That is why
it has an invitation, like that of a person asking his or her
lover to come back and be loved.

The psalmist cries, because he knows what is at stake

   "O today that you would harken to his voice, 
   Harden not your hearts as at Meribah and Massah.

God calls us to trust in him,
He calls us to believe in his goodness,
so that we might enter into his rest.
so that we might not have to wander in the wilderness.

Are we a people like those at Meribah? 
   
Do we quarrel with God and demand from him proof of his love
   when the going gets a little tough?
Is our faith conditional on getting everything we want
   when we want it?

What kind of people are we?  

Are we grumblers and complainers?  Or are we a people who truly
believe in the Son of The Living God?   A people who believe that
God is with us in Christ - leading us on the way to the promised
land - much as he was with Israel in the cloud by day and the
fire by night - leading them on the way from bondage in Egypt to
the land of milk and honey that he had promised to them.

Think for a second of the old story about the day that fortune
knocked on a fellow's door.  The problem is that the man didn't
hear it because he was over at a neighbours telling a hard-luck
story.

Today harken to His voice - 
Harden not your hearts as at Meribah and Massah 
-  this is the call of God to us all.

Harden not your hearts, instead believe 
- for I love you - says the Lord.

And this is where we turn to Peter,
   the apostle who first believed that Jesus was the Presence
       of God, and God's salvation to his people Israel,
          and to the whole world.

Peter saw what Jesus did, and by the miracle of the Holy Spirit
who seeks to lead us all to truth, he saw that God was in Jesus.
              
Peter decided, in an act of faith, that God was acting in and
   through Jesus,
       and because he saw,
          because he was willing to see,
              he received power from God.

Peter received the power to speak for God,
   the power to give life to others,
       and the power to enter into the rest that is promised
          to all people of faith.

This church today is testimony to Peter's faith,
   It exists because Peter and others like him,
   trusted and believed in God
despite the circumstances about them
despite the hostility of the religious leaders of their time,
despite the persecutions unleashed upon them by the Romans
despite the lions that were unleashed upon them in the Coliseum,
and the roadside crucifixions that were practised throughout the
Empire.

We know of course that Peter questioned God, 
and that at times he feared more for his safety than he trusted
the Lord   but still, in the end - Peter turned to Christ - and
trusted in God - this even when he knew that a cross awaited him
because of it.

Faith is a gift of God.

That is part of the meaning of today's new testament reading
where we are told that is the Spirit of God who reveals to Peter
that Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah, the Son, of God.

But it is a gift that is given by God freely to all -
to all who desire to be set free from their bondage
to all who desire to enter into the promised land,
into the rest of God.

But faith, as a gift, needs to be exercised
if it is to avail us of those things God has prepared for us.

   The story is told of a great university which once built a
   fine new library.  It was a monumental structure with tall
   while columns and beautiful marble and ornate furnishings. 
   As students and faculty took visitors around the campus
   they proudly pointed out "that this is our new library". 
   Thousands of people came in fact to admire the fine
   building - and all spoke well of the designer and the
   builders.

   Finally the librarian could stand it no longer and he
   posted a sign in front of the building which read, 

   "This is not the library, the library is inside".

We have to be willing to enter into our faith, 
   into the heart of God
   if we are to have the rest God has promised to us.

When we do so - when we claim the faith of Peter 
and allow ourselves to see in Christ,
the living God who cares for us and looks after us 
and is with us to lead us into the kingdom of God
then we, like he,
receive the power to bind and to loose,
to forgive and to curse.

Harden not your hearts
rather give praise to our living Lord
and to the glorious name of God
for he is with us
to lead us - in safety - to an even better place 
than the place, which we in faith, or in even in doubt,
long for.


* HYMN: "Great is Thy Faithfulness"                      - VU 288


PRAYER OF THE DAY 
O God, we give you thanks for your faithfulness to us and to all
the generations of your people before us.  We thank you for
watching over us and for leading us from bondage into freedom. 
You are the source of our daily bread - you provide for us water
from the rocks of this world and manna from the heavens.  You
have performed great deeds on our behalf.  Your mercies are new
every morning.  Bless us, we pray, and grant that we might always
remember the power of your outstretched hand and trust in your
love for all that lies ahead of us....   Lord hear our prayer...

Grant O God, that we, and your people everywhere, might recognize
the Christ among us - and testify to him and to his love to all
whom we meet.  Help us to use the power you give us to bind and
loose to set free those who are held captive by despair and fear
to and wrap in chains all those forces that would enslave and
destroy your people.  Make us part of the rock upon which your
church is built - that rock which can't move - that rock grounded
firm and deep in our Saviour's love....  Lord hear our prayer...

Intercessions: Larger World
   - Children of Rwanda


Intercessions Local
   - for Mandy - touch her and help her in her illness
   - Clarke
   - Leonard and Karl
   - Lana, Danielle, and Brandon
   - Father Conrado and Pastor Henry
   - For Roy Smith and his family as he prepares to come to you

Special Thanks today
   

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


* 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

   Most Gracious and Giving God, you have provided for us all
   that we need for life in this world and for life in the
   next.  Receive now the gifts we offer for your work in
   this world - gifts which we offer in obedience to your
   will - and which we pray will result in glory being
   ascribed unto your name.  We ask this through Christ
   Jesus, your Son, the promised one of long ago.  Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN: "Lord, Speak To Me"                    - VU 589


* 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,
and may the Lord who gave water to his people in the wilderness
   pour out upon you the fullness of his blessings,
may your faith be grounded upon the rock which cannot move
and your love as bountiful as the love which sustains you each
   and every day,
in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit One.
Amen.


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

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



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