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Sermon (3)and Liturgy For The Third Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
Jonah 3:1 - 4:3; Psalm 62; Mark 1:14-20
"A Gracious and Compassionate God"

READING:  Jonah 3:1 - 4:3; Psalm 62; Mark 1:14-20
SERMON :  "A Gracious and Compassionate God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or03sx 101500

   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 uses some of the approach, and the story of
   the little girl and her thoughts,  from Fr. Jude Botelho, O.P.'s 
   ( "Sunday Reflections" - For  January 26 2003
   as sent to PRCL-List.  The children's story is from Charles
   Kirkpatrick's "" for January 26 2003 and is
   reproduced by permission.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)
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    God calls to us - and reminds us that time is of the essence.  
     Don't complicate your lives unnecessarily.  
     The present world is passing.
P    The world that we see around us is on the way out.
     A new world is coming.
L    Keep things as simple as possible.  
     Turn away from things that distract you.
     The Kingdom of God is closer than you think.  Prepare for it.
P    God is even now among us to work his gracious will.
     He calls everyone to repent and believe in the good news.
L    God calls us to walk in the way of his Chosen and to announce by word
     and deed his righteous judgements.
P    God makes new all who come to him in faith and trust,
     The Lord shows his favour to all who heed him.

Let us pray...   Lord God, we know that you are a gracious and
compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents
from sending calamity and who desires that all people live together in
peace and know the fulness of your blessings - the fulness of your Kingdom. 
 We come before you today O God to give you thanks and praise for the
Messenger of your Will - for the one who has come to tear down every
barrier and to draw all people into your embrace.  Help us to put aside all
those things  that prevent us from hearing Your Word and doing what you ask
of us.  Help us to believe in the Good News and to live as citizens of your
Kingdom - to live with full regard for one another - to live as ones who
have been made in your image and likeness and who remember that all people
have likewise been made by you and are likewise loved by you.  Strengthen
us as we come before you in this hour - so that our witness in the world
may be as you want it to be - and your name - the name we bear, be
glorified to the ends of the earth.  Amen

* HYMN:  "Holy Spirit Hear Us"                                     - VU 377

CHILDREN'S TIME  "Follow The Leader"
Theme          Following Jesus - Wherever He Goes
Object         None (or video "Peter Pan")
Source         Charles Kirkpatrick's "" for January 26
               2003. by permission.
     As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his
     brother Andrew casting a net into the sea -- for they were
     fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you
     fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and
     followed him.  Mark 1:16-18

Recently I was watching the movie, "Peter Pan." Have you ever watched this
movie?  In the movie, the children sing a song and play a game called
"Following the Leader.  (Sing a bit of it, if you can.)

     Following the leader, the leader, the leader
     We're following the leader wherever he may go.

Have any of you ever played "Follow the Leader?"  Of course you have!

I played the game when I was a child - my father played the game when he
was a child -- his father played the game when he was a child.  Follow the
Leader is a game that is played and enjoyed by children all over the world.

The rules are very simple.  You choose a leader and you follow him wherever
he goes and do whatever he does.  You stomp through puddles, climb over
fences, swing from a tree -- all to stay in the game because nobody wants
to be "a quitter."

Follow  the Leader is a great game, but in our daily lives we play follow
the leader too.  In school, in Church, in sports, in any activity we are
in, there are always leaders.  Every day we are faced with making a choice
of which leader we will follow.  We must be sure to choose a leader that
will lead us in the right direction.

One day Jesus was walking along the sea shore.  He saw two fishermen, Peter
and Andrew, who were throwing their fishing nets out into the sea.  Jesus
called out to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."  The
Bible tells us that they immediately laid down their nets and followed
Jesus.  Jesus went a little farther and he saw two more men, James and
John, sitting in their boat mending their nets.  Jesus called out to them
and the Bible tells us that they left their boat and followed Jesus.  (vs.

Jesus is still calling people to follow him today. He has called you and me
to follow him.  Now it's up to us to decide if we will follow the leader.

     Dear Jesus, - you have called us to follow you.  May we, like
     Peter, Andrew, James, and John -  say, "Yes, Lord, - I will
     follow you   wherever you may go." Amen

     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:  "Jesus Calls Us"                                          - VU 562

- Welcome and Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Special Matters
- Sharing Joys and Concerns

  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!

     (NIV)  Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 
     "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I
     give you."  

     Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. 

     Now Nineveh was a very important city - a visit required three
     days.  On the first day, Jonah started into the city.  He
     proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." 
     The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of
     them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 

     When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his
     throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth
     and sat down in the dust.  Then he issued a proclamation in
     Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles:  Do not let
     any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them
     eat or drink.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.
     Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil
     ways and their violence.  Who knows? God may yet relent and with
     compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not

     When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil
     ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the
     destruction he had threatened.

     But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to
     the Lord, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at
     home?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew
     that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and
     abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now,
     O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 62 (Voices United 779) & Gloria Patri (sung)
     Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  
     As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
     World without end.  Amen

     (NIV) After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee,
     proclaiming the good news of God. 

     "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. 
     Repent and believe the good news!" 

     As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his
     brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were
     fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you
     fishers of men." 

     At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a
     little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John
     in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them,
     and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men
     and followed him.

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

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

SERMON:   "A Gracious and Compassionate God" 

     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.

Last week Colleen Palumbo sent me - and perhaps some of you - a poem by
James Patrick Kinney.  It is called "The Cold Within" and it goes likes

Six humans trapped by happenstance 
In black and bitter cold 
Each possessed a stick of wood, 
Or so the story's told. 
Their dying fire in need of logs, 
The first woman held hers back 
For on the faces around the fire 
She noticed one was black. 
The next man looking 'cross the way 
Saw one not of his church 
And couldn't bring himself to give 
The fire his stick of birch. 
The third one sat in tattered clothes 
He gave his coat a hitch, 
Why should his log be put to use 
To warm the idle rich? 
The rich man just sat back and thought 
Of the wealth he had in store, 
And how to keep what he had earned 
From the lazy, shiftless poor. 
The black man's face bespoke revenge 
As the fire passed from his sight, 
For all he saw in his stick of wood 
Was a chance to spite the white. 
And the last man of this forlorn group 
Did naught except for gain, 
Giving only to those who gave 
Was how he played the game. 
The logs held tight in death's stilled hands 
Was proof of human sin, 
They didn't die from the cold without, 
They died from the cold within. 

Think of how Jesus began his ministry - the first words he uttered as he
began to teach and preach.

     "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. 
     Repent and believe the good news!" 

The whole of scripture is a continuous invitation to repentance and to
     believe, an invitation to turn away from those things that would keep
     us cold, those things that lead to our death - and the death of those
     around us.

An invitation to repentance and to believe in the good news 
- the news that God loves each and everyone of us, saint and sinner alike,
and that God has a way for us that gives life: life for us - and life for
all those around us.

It is not God's desire that anyone perish.  Be it those whom we love -
those whom we would have problem sharing our firewood with, or those whom
we don't love - those like the people in the poem - whom we regard as less
than us, those we regard - rightly perhaps - as our enemies - and enemies
of God.

But perish we will - if we do not heed God,
     if each day we do not repent of those things that cause us to deny
     God's love to others and lay hold of 
          - the love of God 
          - the teachings of God 
          - the good news of God
     that love, those teachings, that good news that tells us God's kingdom
is near and that his power and his goodness is not just meant to fill our
hearts and homes with good things -  but is meant to fill the whole world
with all that gives life...

     "The time has come," Jesus says, as he begins his work among us, 
     "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"

And what is that Good News?   

It is the news that is found upon Jonah's lips as an accusation against God
- the accusation that God is gracious and compassionate, 
- that God is gracious and compassionate even to those who do not deserve
his grace and compassion.

I recommend you take about 15 minutes later today and read the entire Book
of Jonah.

Jonah, as you know - or you will find out when you read the Book for
yourself - was a prophet of God who did not want to do what God wanted him
to do.  He did not want to go the great and wicked city of Nineveh.  He did
not want to go to that land we now call Iraq and to that city we now call
Bagdad and announce before it's citizens God's judgement upon them for
their wickedness: the judgement that in forty days from the time he spoke
God's word to them they and their great city would be destroyed.

And why didn't Jonah want to do that?  

Was it because Jonah didn't want to see Nineveh, that city which had
oppressed Judah and his neighbours, for many years destroyed?   

Was it because Jonah was afraid for his own life 
- afraid that the citizen of Nineveh would  kill him?   

Did Jonah attempt to flee in the opposite direction in which Nineveh lay
and end up being swallowed by a great fish until he repented of his
attitudes because he feared dying if he did what God asked him to do?    

No.   Not at all.

In fact the Book of Jonah shows us that Jonah did not fear death at all,
     that he was more than willing to sacrifice his own life to save the
     lives of others,
          to save the lives of the men on the ship he was on when he was
          attempting to not do what God had told him to do.

No, Jonah didn't want to proclaim God's judgement upon the wickedness of
the City of Nineveh, because, as we are told in the punch line to today's
reading, he knew from the very beginning that God was 

     "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in
     love, a God who relents from sending calamity"

and knowing that - Jonah feared that if went and preached against Nineveh
as God wanted him to - that something might happen like that which did
happen - that Nineveh might repent - and God, instead of destroying them
would have mercy on them and not punish them for their sin.

Jonah believed that Nineveh deserved to be destroyed for its many sins and
he feared that just maybe - even though God had declared that Nineveh was
evil and was to be destroyed - that God would end up being too
compassionate, too loving, too merciful.

The Book of Jonah ends a few short verses after the passage that Barbara
read today with a story; a story about how Jonah leaves Nineveh when he
sees what is happening and pouts.

He pouts because God cares for those he thinks God should not care about,
He pouts because those who have done evil things, wicked things - receive

How hard it is at times, even for those who believe in God and in God's
love for them and for the world, to accept the liberality of that love

How hard it is at times to follow Christ wherever he may lead us and let
him make us fishers of men.

There is, it seems, something in us that doesn't want to cast wide the Net
of God's love and to then haul in whatever fish may be caught in that Net's

There is, it seems, something in us that resists yielding up all our
preconceptions, all our judgements, all our worldly attitudes, 
     and simply going out and doing what God asks us to do, 
          what God makes possible for us to do.

     "The time has come," Jesus says as begins his work among us. 
     "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"

Christ Jesus invites everyone to conversion, saint and sinner alike.

He invites everyone 
from the truly and most obviously wicked to those like us here today:
- those of us who may be more like Jonah than we care to think,
- those of us who love God and believe in his word, but just can't bring
ourselves to do some of the things he wants us to,
- those of us who can't bring ourselves to welcome and accept certain
people even when they are repentant
- who can't bring ourselves to forgive certain others - even though they
have asked.
- who can't bring ourselves to reach out to certain people - because of who
they are, and what they do or don't do, because of where they are from or
what they believe.
- those of us who perhaps can't even bring ourselves to believe that God
finds us acceptable - that God loves even us.

For some conversion is a radical turn about 
     from darkness to light
     from out and out evil - to out and out good,
as it was in the case of Nineveh.

For others it is a gradual moving away from doing some things God's way 
and other things our own way, to doing more and more what it is God wants
us to do.  To more and more believing in the good news and allowing that
news - and the God who announces it - to change us from the inside out.

For all there needs to be that inside out change

For all there needs to a fundamental acceptance of the fact that God loves
us if our conversion is to be real and if the process of becoming ever more
holy in fact moves forward day by day. 

Dr. Purnell Bailey tells the story of a girl who had been quite naughty.

     Because she wouldn't say she was sorry, her mother had punished
     her by taking away her toys and sending her to bed. W hen her
     father came from work he went upstairs to see her, and said he
     was sure, if she would only apologise, mother would serve her
     supper and return her toys. 

     The little girl looked up with a determined look, quite
     unrepentant and said, ""Daddy, they've taken away my toys, and
     they've taken away my supper, but they can't take away my

     She insisted on keeping ''her thoughts'' no matter what!  Yet,
     just that is essential for repentance.

Repenting and believing in the good news - following Jesus - is a day to
day process - a day to day following, a day to day setting aside of those
things that offend God and which are contrary to His will  and embracing
those things that are approved by Him and commanded by Him.

It is not enough to repent once, to say one time - "I am sorry, and I
believe". The spiritual life simply doesn't work that way. 

Sin and the effects of sin keep dragging us down and we easily slip into
sinful ways if we are not always in the process of repenting and believing 
- if we do are not always in the process of following Jesus and allowing
him to work in us and through us - to make us ones, who because we follow
him, are ones who are fishers of men.

God' wants all to experience goodness - he wants all people to live - to
come close to him and one another and use the gifts that he has bestowed to
help one another - so that we do not die from the cold.

The cold comes from within.

But it can be replaced with warmth from within.
The warmth of God's love being accepted and set free to work in us.

Transformation takes work - just as fishing takes work - but the good news
of the Kingdom of God is 
     - that God is with us when we do the work 
     and that God is with us to help us repent 
     - that God is with us to help us 
     to that God is with us to help us believe
     - that God is with us to help us walk faithfully day by day
     and that God is with us, and loves us, even when we stumble and fall.

All we have to do is turn our ears and our eyes and our hearts towards the
one who wants to give us life and to work at keeping them there - to seek
the one who gives life without too much looking down, or to the side or to
the rear.  To seek and to walk the path that the one we seek leads us on.

Jonah's life would have been so much easier if he had simply gone and done
what he was told to do by God at the very first.  If he had simply left
aside his worry that God might prove to be kind and compassionate and
proclaimed God's message as he was instructed.  

Our lives too can be a lot easier if we but do as God asks of us,

     for God is gracious and compassionate,  
     slow to anger and abounding in love, 
     a God who relents from sending calamity,

a God who wants us to live and to love as he lives and loves, as Christ
Jesus lives and loves,  
     - as ones who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and
     strength, and their neighbours as themselves.

Blessed be God - Lord of the living and of the dead, 
both now and forevermore.  Amen 


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE   (Singing #400 at the start and end of the prayer
time.  Our prayer response to "Lord, hear our Prayer" is "And in Your Love
          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!

Gracious and compassionate God - as the wickedness of Nineveh is once again
brought before us and proclaimed, 
     as voices speak to us of the evil of the terrorism and of how those
     who practice it should be destroyed, 
          as some proclaim that others will never repent and are full of
          deceit and illusion,
               and still others speak to us of the greed of those who have
               gone to "rescue" her and of the desire they have to take
               what is hers without recompense and to see her laid in the
               dust of death 
we pray that you might illumine the sight of all your children,
that may see you in you in each others eyes...

Lord God, we pray that you might speak in the hearts of all your people,
that they might hear you in the cries of all who are fearful and who call
for justice and mercy

We pray that you might spread the canopy of your peace over us, 
over Israel and your Church, 
over Palestine and Iraq and Iran, 
over the east and the west, and the north and the south
over all who dwell on the face of the earth   
....Oh Lord, hear our prayer....

Gracious and compassionate God, .accept our prayer to sustain us and our
brothers and sisters of different beliefs in our desire for peace  be they
Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, Those with a creed, or those
who have none - but who desire the best of life not just for themselves and
those near to them  - but for all people.  Grant that we will, each day,
turn away from those things within us and our lives that lead to death and
believe in and do those things that lead to life.   Help us, here today, as
followers of Christ, to walk in his path and, by the love and strength you
give us, gather together people for your Kingdom... Lord, hear our

Gracious and compassionate God, we pray for our community, our province and
our nation for the leaders you have set over us. May they govern us with
your wisdom and your grace.   Bless too the nations beyond our borders, so
that all may seek the good of all, rather than the interests of just a
few...  Lord, hear our prayer....
  Lord, we bring to you by name, those concerns and those individuals  whom
you have placed upon our hearts this day.   Hear now the prayers that rise
from our midst.... BIDDING PRAYER .... Lord hear our prayer....

Lord our Profession of faith calls us live with respect in creation, to
love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, and to proclaim
Jesus crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.   Empower us, O Lord to
do these things - and to remember at all times whence our hope comes from -
to remember that you are gracious and compassionate, and that in live and
in death, and in life beyond death, you are with us....  Amen.


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

     We offer these gifts, O God, as a sign of our pledge, to serve
     you, not only in this place, but in all places.  Accept and use
     them, and use us, as instruments of your peace; through Christ
     our Lord.  Amen.

* DEPARTING HYMN: "Take My Life And Let It Be"                     - VU 506

* 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

Go in peace,  
- and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit go with you and radiate forth from you to the glory of His name, 
both now and forevermore.  Amen

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

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

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