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Sermon (3) and Liturgy For The Second Sunday in Lent - Year B
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
"If Anyone Would Follow Me"


READING:  Genesis 17:1-7,15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
SERMON :  "If Anyone Would Follow Me" 

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-le02sn 717003

   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 sermon is much indebted to the work of Merv Skey,
   Pastor at Port Hardy, BC as posted to Ecunet's "Sermonshop" on
   February 16 1997.  The story in the sermon is cited from C.
   Douglas Weaver, "A Cloud of Witnesses", Smyth & Helwys
   Publishing, Macon, GA 1993.
 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)
               
                         
* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (Proverbs 3:3-6)
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 with all your heart,
P    Lean not to your own understanding.
L    In all your ways acknowledge God, 
P    And God will make straight your paths.


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving and Merciful God - you who gave Christ Jesus for the sins of the
world - and through him opened to us to the way to your everlasting kingdom
- be present with us in this holy place.  Give us the grace and the power
to follow Jesus and to allow your healing, your justice, your spirit to
flow through us.  Make our worship the worship of a people who are truly
new in Christ - of a people who do not fear the journey of faith - for they
know that you are, and ever will be their refuge and fortress, a healing
stream and cleansing flood.  In the name of Jesus we ask it.  Amen.   


* HYMN:  "I Sing The Mighty Power"                                 - VU 231


CHILDREN'S TIME
Them      The Faith of Abraham and Sarah
Object    None
Source    Self
     
We call Abraham the Father of our Faith.  Does anyone know why???  It is
because he left his home and all his friends when he was quite old - and
followed God's voice - into a new land -- and because he was willing to do
whatever God asked of him- without any evidence that it would out OK)

This makes Abraham kind of special - but really - Abraham was just like one
of us.   While he always tried to do what God asked him to do -- and while
he believed most things that God told him-- he did not always trust God or
believe in what God told him in his dreams and visions.

God promised Abraham that he would have many children, many grandchildren
and many-many great-grandchildren.  Abraham was very old when God made him
this promise and he had no children at all.  Abraham had to wait a long
long time as well for the promise to come true.  He waited and waited - and
he and his wife Sarah still didn't have any children.  So Abraham had
children with another wife - HAGAR.  He believed that this was the only way
that God's promise to him would come true.   But God visited Abraham in a
dream one night - thirteen years after Ishmael was born, and told him that
Sarah would be the mother of the promised children.  One day soon afterward
God sent two people, angels really, to visit with Abraham and Sarah.  They
told Abraham that Sarah would have a baby within the year, Can you guess
what they did when they heard this news ---- they laughed!   

Why do you think they laughed????  They didn't believe it - even though God
had promised this would happen many years before.

Do you know what happened next?  Sarah got pregnant - even though she was
ninety years old!  And  from Abraham and his wife Sarah came an entire
nation of people - just as God promised.

This week I want you to remember to have faith and trust in God.  God says
that if we trust in him and his promises that he will help us get through
life with joy and peace in our hearts.  Sometimes the promises seem
impossible and sometimes we have to wait a long time - but God's promises
always come true - and they are always worth waiting for.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER 
     Dear Lord God, - God of Abraham and of Sarah, help us to have
     faith in you - help us to believe in your promises - and to do
     what you ask - day by day - day by day.  Amen

And in the word's that Jesus taught us - let us pray our family prayer:

     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


* HYMN:  "To Abraham And Sarah"                                    - VU 634


TIME FOR SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS
- 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 thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM GENESIS 17:1-7,15-16 
     (NIV)  When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him
     and said, "I am God Almighty ; walk before me and be blameless.  I
     will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase
     your numbers." 

     Abram fell face down, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my
     covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer
     will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made
     you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will
     make nations of you, and kings will come from you.  I will establish
     my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your
     descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and
     the God of your descendants after you.

     God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer
     to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.  I will bless her and will
     surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the
     mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 22:23-31  (Voices United 746)


A READING FROM ROMANS 4:13-25:
     (NIV)  It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received
     the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the
     righteousness that comes by faith.  For if those who live by law are
     heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law
     brings wrath.  And where there is no law there is no transgression. 
     Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and
     may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring - not only to those who
     are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He
     is the father of us all.  As it is written: "I have made you a father
     of many nations."  

     He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed - the God
     who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though
     they were.  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became
     the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall
     your offspring be."  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact
     that his body was as good as dead - since he was about a hundred years
     old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver
     through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in
     his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had
     power to do what he had promised.  This is why "it was credited to him
     as righteousness."  The words "it was credited to him" were written
     not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit
     righteousness - for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord
     from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was
     raised to life for our justification.

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


ANTHEM or FAVOURITE HYMN


A READING FROM MARK 8:31-38:
     (NIV)  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer
     many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers
     of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise
     again.  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and
     began to rebuke him. {33} But when Jesus turned and looked at his
     disciples, he rebuked Peter.  

     "Get behind me, Satan!" he said.  "You do not have in mind the things
     of God, but the things of men." 

     Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If
     anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross
     and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but
     whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What
     good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 
     Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed
     of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son
     of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with
     the holy angels."

L    This is the Gospel of the Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "O Love, How Deep"                                        - VU 348


SERMON: "If Anyone Would Follow Me"

     Let us Pray - Lord God, Creator and Maker of us all, speak in the
     calming of our minds and in the longings of our hearts, by the
     words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord,
     for your servants listen.  Amen.

          Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must
          undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders,
          the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and
          after three days rise again.... (And) -- He called the
          crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any
          want to become my followers, let them deny themselves
          and take up their cross and follow me.   For those who
          want to save their life will lose it, and those who
          lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the
          gospel, will save it.

A Pastor on Northern Vancouver Island wrote to online study group this
message: 

     "I'm having difficulty with the Gospel this week; what is this
     cross that I am to take up, and what am I to deny in following
     Jesus?" 

Another Pastor, a student minister in the United States wrote: 

     "I find this a hard gospel text because it talks about suffering
     rather than joy"

The cross has always caused problems to people.  Brutal and barbaric - the
cross was a tool of political power for the Romans.  They maintained their
power because of the fear of death on the cross. 

 When one was condemned by the state, the condemned literally had to "take
up his cross" and carry it to the public place where he was to be
crucified.  It was part of the humiliation process, the mechanism of social
control for which crucifixion was invented.

The cross was an instrument of suffering and shame - and no more so than
among the Children of Israel - where the scriptures themselves declare:
"cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree". 

To die on a cross was a sign that one died cut off from God, and cut off
from the people of God - a sign that the person was rejected.  And of
course in the case of Jesus this was very true.  

Jesus went to cross as one who was rejected and abandoned.  Rejected by the
elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and abandoned almost completely
by his disciples too.  Jesus didn't die as a hero or a martyr.  He died as
a blasphemer. 

The cross was the worst form of execution - for the people of Israel and
     for the Roman Empire as a whole.  Indeed it was a social faux pax to
     mention crosses or crucifixion in the presence of women and children
     of high social standing.  

Yet Christianity
     in contrast to many of the other religions of the day, which
     celebrated the search for beauty, truth, and the good, 
had, and still has, at its centre this most awful symbol of death and
disgrace.

This must be dealt with - and understood correctly.  

I say this because with our gold and silver crosses adorning our altars,
and worn as jewellery around our necks, 
     and with so much wrong-headed preaching on cross-bearing, preaching
     which reduces bearing the cross to little more than performing acts of
     kindness toward other people, or putting up with difficult situations
we risk transforming our faith into just another religion - a religion that
celebrates many good things - but which avoids the difficult truths about
life and about faithfulness to God.
 
Jesus is clear.  To be his disciples, to enter the Kingdom of God, we must
deny our selves and pick up our crosses - and follow him.

So what is the cross we are called to bear?

FIRST, what the cross is not.

The student minister I quoted at the beginning of the sermon, as part of
her work towards her degree meets with a study group that looks at the
gospel passage for the coming Sunday.  After telling them that she found
today's gospel reading a hard passage because it talks about suffering
rather than joy, the group discussed the passage.

She reported that for the next 90 minutes she listened to the most amazing
series of stories of survival.  The members of the group talked about the
death of a husband, the death of an infant daughter, the near-death of a
teen-aged child, divorce, chemotherapy, bankruptcy - and how they look back
now and know they weren't alone - that in all these events God went with
them - supporting them - wiping the tears from their eyes - and bringing
new hope and new life out of tragedy.  -- Praise God for that!

She ended her report by saying that the members of the study group thought
they were talking about picking up their crosses and that she was very
inspired by their talk.

But my friends - while I praise God for the testimony of the members of her
study group about how God went with them in their suffering and affliction
- they were not necessarily talking about either the cross of Jesus or the
cross that he calls us to bear.

I say that because most people make a fundamental mistake when talking
about the crosses they bear.  They confused the suffering that is inflicted
upon them by the world - a suffering that comes without their choice or
decision - with that which comes because we have chosen to be faithful.

Think about it for a moment.  Think about the cross of Christ.  Think about
how he could have avoided it, how he could have called legions of angels to
his rescue, how he could have turned away from the confrontation in
Jerusalem and ministered quietly in Galilee.

A cross is something we pick up because we desire to follow Jesus.  It is
not something falls upon us because we are made of mortal flesh and live in
a decaying world, though how we react to those things may, in fact, turn
them from an affliction that we bear to a cross we bear.

I think of the aging husband or wife who faithfully tends for and cares for
their spouse even when that spouse can no longer recognize them or
communicate with them.   They have made a decision to be faithful - and the
burden they bear is indeed a cross and simply an affliction.

SECOND - the cross we are called to bear is not exactly the same as
Christ's cross.  Our crosses are our own - they are shaped specially for us
by our own life issues and by the call of God upon our lives.

There is a true story in a wonderful book called "A Cloud of Witnesses", by
Douglas Weaver.  He writes:

     There were 40 soldiers of the Twelfth Legion of Rome's imperial
     army who were Christians. Their captain announced one day that
     Emperor Licinius had issued an edit requiring all soldiers to
     offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. 

     The forty soldiers replied, "You can have our armour and even our
     bodies, but the allegiance of our heart belongs to Jesus Christ."

     It was mid-winter, AD 320. The captain had the men march out to a
     frozen lake.  Their clothes were stripped off of their backs, and
     they were told either to renounce Christ or to die.  Baths of hot
     water waited on shore as a temptation to deny their faith.

     Throughout the night, the men huddled together and sang, "forty
     martyrs for Christ, forty martyrs for Christ..."  One by one, the
     soldiers fell in death.  

     Finally, only one soldier was left.  His courage failed; he
     stumbled to shore, renouncing his faith in Christ.  But the
     officer of the guard who had been watching the drama had secretly
     come to believe in Christ.  When he saw the fortieth soldier come
     to the shore, the officer walked out onto the frozen lake,
     disrobed, and confessed his faith.  As dawn broke the next
     morning, there were forty bodies on the ice. 

As commentary, the book goes on to quote Tertullian, the great North
African defender of the faith: "We multiply whenever we are mown down by
you; the blood of Christians is seed.
 
Many people assume that the cross we are called to carry is like this -
like Christ's - that it is a literal willingness to die for the sake of the
gospel.  

Naturally, they can't relate to that very well, because these days, in
North America at least, we are not placed in such situations - where our
physical death can result from witnessing to Christ.

But there is more than one kind of death, more than one kind of martyrdom,
more than one kind of witness.  And that brings me to say what the Cross IS
for us - and how it is like Christ's.

Our Cross is like Christ's in the sense that it involves offering ourselves
to God and our neighbours in complete and total love and obedience to God,
no matter where that love and obedience may take us. 

It may involve us in less than physically dying for Christ (depending on
what part of the world you live in), but it will involve us in far more
than simply performing acts of kindness toward other people, or putting up
with difficult situations.

Our cross will involve us in the denial of self so that we may live to God,
much as the faithful husband or wife in dealing with the sick partner
deny their own needs, their own pleasures, and live for their mate.

Our motives for doing things will not be - how will this help me - 
but instead how will it serve Christ?  
How will it serve God?

I am struck by verse 35 in today's gospel reading.  Those words that say:

     "Those who save their life will lose it, those who lose their
     life for Christ's sake, and for the sake of good news, will save
     it." 

Too many Christian folk are concerned about whether or not they are saved. 
They worry about whether or not they am going to heaven. 

If that is our focus then Jesus is very clear that we have missed the boat.
Our attempts to save our own lives won't do it.  

If however I lose my life, that is, if I give it away to others in service
to Christ and Christ's good news, then and only then have will I save it.  

Giving my life is my only hope.  Giving my life away in service to God -
for God's sake - for the sake of Christ - is where it is at.  Loving others
with the love of God is where it is at.  Otherwise all we are doing is
trying to work our way into heaven.  

There's a message here for the church. 

Focus on the health of the church, or the denomination it belongs to, 
spend your energy on the latest church growth gimmick,
look for money to simply keep the doors open 
and we will die.

But if the church gives its life away, 
     if it focuses on the mission that God calls it too,
     if it seeks to obey and serve God,
     if it spends itself on proclaiming the good news
     and invites others to support its vital work of life saving
it will, inadvertently as it were, saves its own life. 

I would like conclude this sermon by saying three things about what
"denying oneself" means.  There is much more than what I will hold up for
you, but there is not much more in the way of time this morning.

First, denying oneself means refusing to judge others or oneself, but
     rather leaving all judgement in the hands of God.

One the things we struggle with most often is our sense of our own
worthlessness; it is so easy for us to listen to the condemning voices in
my head telling me that I am a failure, a fraud.

Jesus invites us to deny our own evaluation of ourselves (and others), to
give up making judgements about ourselves and to accept the grace, the
special relationship we have with God through Christ at face value, to
accept God's evaluation of us.  

That is denial indeed.  No more can I say, "He's such a nice fellow!" or
"She's horrible!", but rather I must say, "this person is a child of God,
one for whom Christ has given his life".  And what I say about others, I
must also say about myself.  God finds me worthwhile.  I am acceptable -
and God will help me to grow in his grace as I yield more and more to his
will for me.
 
This sort of denial would eliminate the boundaries we erect around the
gospel - around God.  There would be no more insiders and no more
outsiders.  All of us are out (there is none righteous, no not one) and all
of us are in - since Jesus has taken away the sins of the whole world... 
 
Would that ever make for a different Church, and a different world,
if I and the people ever came to believe it! 

Second - denial of self means the refusal to feel ashamed about the gospel.

Shame or embarrassment is a self centred feeling.  Every time we hesitate
to share the faith because we will be thought foolish or a religious
fanatic - we are thinking more about ourselves than about the good of
others...

Jesus is clear - if we are ashamed of him he will be ashamed of us.   

Part of our denial of self is to put off feelings we may have about
speaking about our faith and to share the good news we believe in with
others   even when we think that maybe they will not appreciate it.  

This doesn't mean that we must go about knocking on doors and making a
nuisance of ourselves - but does mean that we must be a little less afraid
to rock the boat - to be a little less afraid of standing out in the crowd,
a little less afraid of "being different"

If we truly believe that God alone makes the difference to human life
and that faith in Christ sets one free,
then how can we not share that?

Again - it is not about us and what we do or don't do;
it is about God and what God can do and will do -
if we let him, if we get ourselves out of the way.

And third, self denial means be willing to take risks, to let go of the
familiar things, the familiar thoughts and to let God lead us - much as he
led Abram and Sari into a new land, a land they did not know, and there
gave them new names and a new life.
     
Christ calls us beyond our known borders.  He says, "join me, follow me"  

Christ is always well beyond us in vision, but he also beside us to help us
walk with him into the new land, the promised land.

Like Abraham and Sarah, and indeed like the people of Israel in the
wilderness, we are not worry about how we eat, what we will wear, or where
we will lay down our heads - but to trust that if God is calling us - then
God will make the way ready for us....  

Most of us spend our lives working for tomorrow - for our kids education -
for our future when the kids leave home - for retirement - even for our
pre-arranged funerals -- and so we miss the riches of today, we miss
discovering what it is that God is doing amongst us.

     "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and
     take up their cross and follow me.   For those who want to save
     their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my
     sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Yes - it is difficult stuff this stuff about the cross, this stuff about
denying ourselves - but it is made  easier by the fact that when we begin
to do so some marvellous things being happen - we begin to see with the
eyes of God and we begin to experience a portion of what God has promised
that we will experience when we live by faith, an experience that not only
includes the cross, but the resurrection.

Praise be to Christ - the Lord of the living and the dead.
And praise be to God the Father - who raised him up from the grave.
Amen.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE:  Singing #400 at the start of the prayer time.  Our
     response to "Lord, hear our Prayer" is "And in Your Love Answer")
            
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          send us love, send us power, send us grace!

O Lord, we give you thanks for the example of Abraham and for all the
saints who have gone before us - for those who waited in patience for your
promises to come to pass - for those who lived in hope while around them it
seemed to be only darkness, for those who witnessed to you when it was not 
considered the proper thing to do, for those who forgot their own selves in
their desire to obey your commands and respond to your call upon their
lives.   Help us today, O God, to examine the level of our faith - to look
seriously at our resistance to talk about the cross and about sacrifice; 
and to consider in prayer our reluctance to give up the things of this
world - to risk our reputations, our comfort, and our security for the sake
of following you - for the sake of witnessing to you - for the sake of
obeying you ....   Lord hear our prayer....

We pray O Lord, that you would make us bold in our faith.  By our self-
forgetting, our  self-denial, help us make visible to all our brothers and
sisters the reality of your power and care - that power and care that is so
often made evident when we confess our weakness - and so often concealed
from others when we are strong.....  Lord hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for those people whose names, or faces, or needs are
resting upon our hearts --- for the members of our church whose health is
failing as they age -- for those believers whose families are struggling to
deal with teenage rebellion and adult confusion and uncertainty -- for
those who have little or no faith and who seem to be lost even though your
light shines around them and your word is close to hand....  Lord hear our
prayer....

We pray, O Lord, for those in our family, our church, our community and our
world that you bring to our hearts and minds at this time - and we hold
them up to you with the words of our lips....  (Bidding Prayer)...

All these things we we pray to, through your Son Jesus, who died that we
might live, and who lives that we might never die.  Amen


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

     Loving God, as we present to you these our tithes and free will
     offerings, we recall how Jesus offered himself for our sakes, how
     he gave not only his time, his energy, his skill for us - but how
     he offered his very self to you on our behalf....  Bless what we
     offer to you on these plates and within our hearts, O Lord - that
     it may worthy of the example we have received - we ask it in
     Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "How Firm A Foundation"                         - VU 660


* COMMISSIONING:  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 - love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may the faith of Abraham and Sarah be within you; 
- may the love of Christ and of God the Father surround you and fill you; 
- and may the Holy Spirit guide you on your way, 
both now and forevermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks 2003 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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