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Sermon For Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year B
James 3:14 - 4:8a; Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37
"A New Way of Seeing"


READING:  James 3:14 - 4:8a; Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37
SERMON :  "A New Way of Seeing"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or25sesu.y-b 896

   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. 


A READING FROM JAMES 3:14 - 4:8a
     (NIV)  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your
     hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such "wisdom"
     does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of
     the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there
     you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that
     comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving,
     considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial
     and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of
     righteousness.

     What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from
     your desires that battle within you?  You want something but
     don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you
     want.  You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not
     ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with
     wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 
     You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the
     world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of
     the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture
     says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us
     envies intensely?  But he gives us more grace.  That is why
     Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the
     humble."  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and
     he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to
     you.

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


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 1 (VU page 724 & Sung Response) 


A READING FROM MARK 9:30-37
     (NIV) They left that place and passed through Galilee.  Jesus did
     not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching
     his disciples.  He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be
     betrayed into the hands of men.  They will kill him, and after
     three days he will rise."   But they did not understand what he
     meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 

     They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them,
     "What were you arguing about on the road?"  But they kept quiet
     because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

     Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants
     to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." 
     He took a little child and had him stand among them.  Taking him
     in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these
     little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me
     does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

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


* HYMN:  "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee"                         - VU 560


SERMON:  "A New Way of Seeing"

     Let us Pray - O God, light of the minds that know you, life of
     the souls that love you, and strength of the hearts that seek you
     - bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. 
     We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen

Frank Laubach, who was a missionary to Africa, likes to tell the story of
how he was shown a huge hydro electric dam there which provided power for a
Firestone Plant.

     Inside the plant was this massive pipe leading into four huge
     turbines.  Below the turbines the pipe continued out to the foot
     of the dam.  All was quiet inside the power house.

     Laubach wondered why the turbines were not running and he was
     told that the pipe was closed at the outlet.  Once the gigantic
     value was opened at the outlet the water would flow through and
     the turbines would run.

     Laubach commented about this later.  He said "that is the way our
     lives are.  The pipe must be open up toward God and open down
     toward others.  Then the current can flow through and the wheels
     can go around and provide the power of God that we need.

We must be open toward God,
and open towards others,
otherwise the power we need can not be produced.

A simple idea really, 
but one that is at the root of both the gospel and epistle reading today.

The gospel says, in verses 30 to 34, that Jesus and his disciples were
travelling through Galilee, and Jesus was teaching his disciples about how
the Son of Man was going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and be
killed, and then on the third day rise; but that the disciples did not
understand what he meant - and were afraid to ask him about it.

Instead, they were arguing, and we hear that when they arrived at Capernaum 
Jesus asked them about it, saying: 
"what were you arguing about on the road"?

But the disciples were silent 
because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest among them.

A silly argument really 
- one that I am sure that no one here would ever get into.

I mean imagine it - trying to decide who is more important...
What measuring stick would we use?

Those who farm - are they the greatest 
     - because they produce the milk and food we need to eat?

Are the teachers among us the most important 
     - because they train people in the various jobs they must do and
     provide them with the tools they need to learn new things with?

Or is it doctors 
     - because without them most diseases would be fatal?

Or how about janitors and garbage men 
     - for without them we would choke in our own waste products?

It is an endless argument once you get into it, and one the disciples did
well to remain silent about when confronted by the master.

Why this quest to determine who is most important?  
Why this quest to be number one?

I mean, why bother with the whole question?
     why bother wondering who is greatest?
     why this quest to be better or more powerful than other people?
     why this desire to Lord it over our brothers and sisters 
as if that was somehow important to do?

Surely there is a different way of looking at life?  A more helpful way -
a way that totally avoids the question of greatness, the question of who
should be first and instead looks at quality of life, at what James, in
verse 18 of the epistle reading, calls the harvest of righteousness.

Jesus speaks of a different way of living and of thinking when after asking
his disciples about what they were arguing about, calls all twelve of them
together and says to them:

          "If anyone  wants to be first, he must be the very
          last, and the servant of all."

And then taking a little child and having him stand among them, 
he takes the child in his arms and says to  them:

          Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my
          name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, does not
          welcome me, but the one who sent me.

I have always liked that, both as an image, and as a teaching.

Jesus calls the twelve - and he calls us - away from our arguments about
     who is greatest, and who deserves more and who should call the shots
and turns our mind instead to the question of our attitude and how willing
     we are to humble ourselves and to serve one another.

Children were not valued at the time of Jesus in the way they are today.
They had no rights. There were no United Nations declarations about how
they should be treated, and what it is that they deserve out of life.

Children were not the most important persons in their families,
nor were they considered to be the greatest members of their society.

Rather children were expected to be obedient to their parents
and to help the family earn its living
and to learn what the family expected them to learn.
Their needs were subordinate to the needs of the entire family
and their role in the family was one of subservience.

Who are the children today --
     who are those people who are not highly regarded?
     who are those without a place of their own?
     those without a leg to stand on?
     those whose voices are heard not because they have a right to be
heard, but only because the more powerful indulge them from time to time?

Who is seen as less important, by us, and by our society?

          Whoever welcomes one of these in my name, welcomes me;
          and whoever welcomes me, does not welcome me, but the
          one who sent me.

Jesus is saying is that life in the Kingdom of God is not about being the
greatest, or the first... but rather about seeing other people as important
and this not in degree - not in measurement, but rather in an absolute way,
a way that ignores all distinctions.

Life lived according to the way of Christ is a life of opening ones arms
and welcoming people into our embrace - and showing them that we care.

It is about opening the pipeline at both ends so nothing at all impedes the
flow of power, the flow of love, that produces the harvest we all need and
desire   the harvest that comes when we live as peacemakers and sow the
seeds of peace each day.

To be a peacemaker, to enjoy the harvest of righteousness,
requires an attitude of peace, an attitude of humility.

It requires the recognition that it is really only God who is important,
and that God is found in the simple things, in the lowly things, in the
ordinary things.

There is poem about the attitude that Jesus calls those who bear his name
to have.  It goes like this:

When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I'm not shouting "I am saved"
 I'm whispering "I was lost"
 That is why I chose this way.
      
When I say ..."I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
 I'm confessing that I stumble
 and need someone to be my guide.
               
 When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I'm not trying to be strong
 I'm professing that I'm weak
 and pray for strength to carry on.
            
 When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I'm not bragging of success.
 I'm admitting I have failed
 and cannot ever pay the debt.
           
 When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I'm not claiming to be perfect,
 My flaws are too visible
 But, God believes I'm worth it.
           
When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I still feel the sting of pain
 I have my share of heartaches
 Which is why I speak His name.
              
 When I say..."I am a Christian"
 I  do not wish to judge.
 I have no authority.
 I only know I'm loved.

What is it that you want out of life?  What is it you want from God?

I think that most of us looking for a better life for ourselves and our
families and our world. 

We would like to feel more at peace,
We would like to have more joy and happiness,
We would like to see an end to the world's problems 
We would like to see our children, and our children's children be able to
     grow up with enough to eat, and the ability to do what they want when
     they want to, and we hope that what they will want will be good for
     them and for those that they meet.

This can only come to us when we give up the world's standards of success
as they are measured by power, status, and money - and turn as humble
children to our Father in Heaven and learn from him.

Recall the words of our Psalm reading today:

     Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or
     take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
     but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they
     meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams
     of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves
     do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.  The wicked
     are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

As long as we discriminate between people,
as long as we judge some more important than others,
as long as we desire to be more important ourselves
as long as we, to use the words of James in today's reading, envy others
and have selfish ambitions,
we block out what God has in store for us, and our world.

Jesus came among us not as a Lord, not as a boss, not as an important
person but as servant.

He came to touch, to embrace, to heal, to forgive, to help, to love.
and this even when he knew it would take him to the cross.

Our prayer should not be "make me someone important", 
nor should it be "give me wealth and success".

Rather, knowing that God is fully able and fully willing to give us what we
need in life, and that our God is found in those whom the world regards of
no account, our prayer should be like that of St. Francis. 

     Make me a channel of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me
     bring your love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is
     doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light; and where there is
     sadness, joy.

     Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to
     console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love
     with all my soul.
     Make me a channel of your peace for it is in pardoning that I am
     pardoned; in giving that I receive; and in dying that I am born
     to eternal life. 

Blessed be God, who shows us the way in Christ Jesus,
day by day, day by day.  Amen.


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



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