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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 14 - Proper 9 - Year B
Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12:1-10; and Mark 6:1-6
"My Power Is Made Perfect In Weakness"


READING:  Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12:1-10; and Mark 6:1-6
SERMON :  "My Power Is Made Perfect In Weakness"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or14se.y-b 377000

   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, if any, are as indicated in the text.
   
   Note that this sermon and liturgy is based on the Epistle for the
   Upcoming Sunday, the First Reading is selected from the Roman
   variant of the RCL.  The Gospel and Psalm are RCL.
   

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (from Psalm 33)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  We wait in hope for the Lord.
P  He is our help and our shield.
L  In him our hearts rejoice,
P  for we trust in his holy name.
L  May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
P  Even as we put our hope in you.


* INTROIT: "Spirit of The Living God" (Verse 1)                    - VU 376


* PRAYER OF APPROACH


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


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Sharing Joys and Concerns 


ST. ANDREW'S THIS WEEK 


CHILDREN'S TIME:  
- With the children display and share a rose. Tell them with the beauty
there is also some danger - that there is good news and bad news - but
these work together and the flower itself actually is produced after the
thorns are produced.  Sometimes our lives are like that.  There is bad
stuff, but with patience and the love of God - something beautiful can
emerge.


PRAYER WITH THE CHILDREN AND THE LORD'S PRAYER


* HYMN: "Saviour, Like A Shepherd Lead Us"                        - SFGP 93


A READING FROM EZEKIEL 2:1-7
   (NIV)  He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will
   speak to you." {2} As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me
   to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. {3} He said: "Son of man, I
   am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has
   rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against
   me to this very day. {4} The people to whom I am sending you are
   obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD
   says.' {5} And whether they listen or fail to listen--for they are a
   rebellious house--they will know that a prophet has been among them.
   {6} And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do
   not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live
   among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by
   them, though they are a rebellious house. {7} You must speak my words
   to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are
   rebellious.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 48 (VU 772 and refrain) 


A READING FROM II CORINTHIANS 12:1-10
   (NIV)  I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I
   will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. {2} I know a man
   in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.
   Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows.
   {3} And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the
   body I do not know, but God knows-- {4} was caught up to paradise. He
   heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
   {5} I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about
   myself, except about my weaknesses. {6} Even if I should choose to
   boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth.
   But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by
   what I do or say. {7} To keep me from becoming conceited because of
   these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my
   flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. {8} Three times I pleaded
   with the Lord to take it away from me. {9} But he said to me, "My grace
   is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
   Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that
   Christ's power may rest on me. {10} That is why, for Christ's sake, I
   delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in
   difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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


* HYMN:  "O Jesus Christ, Grow Thou In Me"                        - SFGP 27


A READING FROM MARK 6:1-6
   (NIV)  Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his
   disciples. {2} When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the
   synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get
   these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him,
   that he even does miracles! {3} Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this
   Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't
   his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. {4} Jesus said
   to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own
   house is a prophet without honor." {5} He could not do any miracles
   there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. {6} And
   he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching
   from village to village.

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


SERMON: "My Power Is Made Perfect In Weakness"

   Let us Pray - O God, light of the minds that know you, life of the
   souls that love you, and strength of the thoughts that seek you -
   bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. 
   Breath your life into us that we may live in the manner you have
   appointed unto us and better love and serve you and one another. 
   Amen

The story of Jesus's rejection in his own town is a classic one -
it is a story that most of us can identify with  
because it is a story that has happened to most of us:

Often our families,
   our childhood companions
   our husbands,
   or our wives,
fail to listen to the wisdom and accept the words of grace and love and
encouragement we offer - because they are too familiar with us.

The people of our home town know us too well,
and therefore they simply can not accept, at times anyway,
   - that the boy who used to leave his dirty socks sitting on the kitchen
   table,
   - or the girl who used to skip school and go hanging around the mall
can be for them God's appointed instrument,
the agent of God's healing and saving grace for them.

It is partly for this reason that the royal family of England strives very
hard to prevent too much detail about the private lives of the royals from
becoming public.

They fear that the more that is known about them, the less effective they
will be able to be as the representatives of the nations of the
Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth calls the royal quest for privacy "not letting too much
sunlight into the magic".

Consider the grumbling of the people in Jesus' home town when he spoke to
them 

   "what is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does
   miracles!  Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph
   Judas and Simon?  Aren't his sisters here with us?"

And the scriptures go on to say that they took offense at him,
and that as result Jesus was not able to do any miracles there,
expect lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by his own
and all because his own thought that they knew him,
and it is often for the same reason that we are rejected,
- too much sunlight has been let into the magic.

But there is more to this story of rejection,
for the story of Jesus' rejection by his villagers,
is also a story about how we ignore and reject God.

It is a story about our unwillingness to be helped by God, 
   or by anybody else;
an unwillingness which comes out of our own certainties
   our own knowledge,
   our own strength.

For the people who lived in Jesus' home town,
their knowledge of him as a youth
prevented them from seeing God's power in him as an adult.

But for most others the grace of God is shut out,
not because they know Christ so well,
but because they think they know what is best for themselves,
and because they refuse to accept that perhaps they need help,
   that perhaps their understanding, 
   and their own strength 
   is getting in their way.

The road to spiritual wholeness 
is not travelled by exercising our own human powers, 
but rather by acknowledging our human weaknesses,
and then, in that weakness, allowing God to exercise his power in us.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous probably understand the gospel better than
most theologians - and indeed than most regular church goers.

They will tell you that the key to turning their lives around was admitting
their weakness, admitting that they were, are, and always will be
powerless, powerless over alcohol.

Listen to the first three of the twelve steps of the AA program.

-1 - We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had
   become unmanageable.
-2 - We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore
   us to sanity,
-3 - We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of
   God as we understood him.

What we have here is 
ONE        - A acknowledgement of weakness, of need.
TWO        - A belief that God, and only God, can help
and THREE  - the willingness to turn the whole matter, indeed ones's
              whole life, over to God and let God take control of the
              problem.

As it is with Alcohol, so it is with all the rest of life.

Until we admit our weakness,
until we stop being afraid of it,
until we stop denying it,
we can't find the help we need.

I went to seminary with a student by the name of Mark.  Mark had great
ability, but he could not get along with other people.

Mark always wanted to control our discussions in class.  He always was
ready with an answer to the questions asked by the teachers and the rest of
us.

When there was silence - he  felt he had to fill it
When there was confusion  - he tried to bring order,
and not just any order, but the order that he thought was best.

He never showed any hesitation or weakness to us,
He never shared his personal problems,
And rarely left room for us to share ours in,
and so as a result we hard a hard time liking him.

One day Mark was confronted with this behaviour by a group of students who,
with a professor, were supposed to give Mark his final marks for the school
year.

They asked Mark why he behaved like he did.

He went away and a week later returned with a paper that explained it all:
   he claimed his father had never accepted him,
   that he had come from a broken home,
   that other people refused to look deeper into him,
   and that, yes, he was a little careless about sharing time with others
and listening to them, but that he could get a grip on it if they gave him
a chance.

The group of students recognized the sincerity of his paper
   but they refused to accept it
and they rejected his answers,
   calling them inadequate and self-deceiving.

At first he was dumbfounded - 
   he thought he had done a good piece of work - 
       that he had come up with the reasons why he behaved like he did, 
   and then, when He saw that the group wasn't buying it, he grew frantic
and began to break down in front of them - 
   he began to cry and to say 
       "I don't know what to do..
       I'm scared!
       I'm confused!  What do you want?  What can I do? 
       Please help me.
       I feel so out of control."

At that point one of the students listening to him got up and went over to
him and hugged him and said --

   "Its OK - just cry.  There is nothing wrong with being out of control -
   as a matter of fact it is good - for now there is room for God to
   control you - room for God to help you - and room for us to show you
   that we love you too."

After that time a change came over Mark.  He did not become perfect.
But he did become a little more sensitive to the needs  of others.
He didn't try to run every situation, and you could see him actually
listening to the viewpoints being expressed by others.

We in turn began to come to know him as a feeling  and caring human being,
as a person like us - with joys and with pain, with hopes and with fears.

Mark's confession of weakness became the occasion
where God's grace, God's strength, finally could get a grip on his life.

The Apostle Paul, like us all, knew weakness.
He had what he called a thorn in the flesh - 
   some believe that he had severe migraine headaches,
and three times, as he tells us, he prayed that this weakness, 
this affliction might be removed, that he might be cured.

On the third occasion when Paul prayed God answered him and said -"My grace
is sufficient for you - for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Paul's response to this statement is a most beautiful one. He said

      "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses that
   Christ's power may rest on me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am
   content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and
   difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

WHEN I AM WEAK - THEN I AM STRONG

To the world this is nonsense.
Power and strength are worshipped by most people,
and weakness is despised above all things.

The world teaches us to conceal our vulnerability, lest we be hurt,
and it teaches us to hide our weakness, lest we be taken advantage of,

The world teaches us to camouflage our inadequacies with self-confidence,
self reliance and self assurance, so that we can build a heaven for
ourselves here on earth.

The world teaches us that we can help ourselves,
that we can do what we need to do on our own,
and that all the answers we need we can find in ourselves.

This my friends is simply not true.
It is the wisdom of the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve,
it is not the wisdom of God.

Every alcoholic still hitting the bottle tells us he can quit, and every
dysfunctional person caught behaving in a way that is offensive to others
tells us that they know better and that they are on the way to licking the
situation.

My friends - our weaknesses, our hardships, and our tribulations are not of
themselves a blessing,  they are real problems for us, and they can create
problems for how we get along with others --
   BUT - when we acknowledge our weaknesses and our needs, and turn to God
   and ask for his help, instead of relying on our own skill & wisdom &
   strength to save us, then something profound happens 
- we discover that God's grace is sufficient for us, and that his power is
made perfect in our weakness,  and almost always in ways we do not expect.

When I am weak, then I am strong.

If the truth be known, we are weak in many many ways,
ways that all too often we are afraid to admit,
because we fear that we will be scorned,
rejected, or taken advantage of somehow.

But that is not what need happen,
nor normally is it what happens.

Rather what happens is that God's power comes to us and helps us in the way
that we need help.

Our weakness may remain, as Paul's thorn remained,
   but God's power inhabits it and turns it to strength for us;
       strength for us to do what we as human beings and as followers of
       Christ are meant to do and in fact need to do, if we are to inherit
       the joy, the love, and indeed the very life, that God wants to
       bestow upon us.
 
The story is told about how one day a small boy was trying to lift a stone
much too heavy for him.  

   His father walked by and seeing his struggles said "Are you using
   all your strength?"  The boy said that indeed he was.  But the
   father replied "No son, you aren't, for you haven't asked me."

How much haven't we asked God about?
   
How much of our weakness do we keep locked up inside us,
because we think that there is no help for us,
or because we think that other things are more important?

A part of our strength, the greater part, comes from our relationship to
God - the God who is able and willing to help us.  
          
But first we realize our need for him, 
and then we must ask him to take control.

Doing our best as Christians always includes asking God to help us do what
we are striving to do.

God makes his power perfect in weakness, for it is there that he is able to
do for us what we, in our strength, do not let him do.

I would like to conclude with a poem that sums up what I have being trying
to say - it was written over a hundred years ago by a confederate soldier:

   I asked for health that I might do greater things,
       I was given infirmity that I do might do better things...
   I asked for riches that I might be happy,
       I was given poverty that I might be wise...
   I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,
       I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God....
   I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,
       I was given life that I might enjoy all things...
   I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I hoped for.
   Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
   I am among all men most richly blessed.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us pray...
      Loving God, let our wisdom be you,
      our hope be you,
      and our strength be you,
   Help us accept our weakness that we may find your strength
      our foolishness that we may accept your wisdom.
      and our own sinfulness that we may accept your grace.

Hear our prayers too, this day O God for
- intercessions in normal form -


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

      Prayer of Dedication in normal form.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart"           - VU 378


* 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
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may the love of God the Father rest upon you 
- may the grace and the mercy of Christ Jesus the Son dwell within you 
- and may God the Holy Spirit strengthen, comfort, and sustain you 
both now and forevermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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