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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 25 - Year B
James 3:14 - 4:8a; Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37
"The Greatest Amongst Us"


READING:  James 3:14 - 4:8a; Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37
SERMON :  "The Greatest Among Us"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or25smsn.y-b 569744

   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 story of the knight from Rev. Alex Stevenson, 
   "We're Number One", 1997. 

 
GTHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP:
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord
P    Blessed are those who walk according to God's way
L    The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
P    The Lord is the strength of my life; he saves me from my enemies.
L    Blessed are those who walk according to God's way.
P    Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord.


* INTROIT:  "What Does The Lord Require Of You"                    - VU 701


* PRAYER OF APPROACH 
Let us Pray --Gracious God - we thank you for the family you have given us
in Christ Jesus.  We pray that you will bless us as we gather today to
worship you today and to seek your wisdom and to care for one another. 
Help us to hear your Word and to do your Will.  Grant that joy and peace
may fill every heart and that in this place we might become more deeply in
love with You and with our neighbours.  We ask it in the name of Jesus -
our Lord, our brother, and our friend.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "You Servants of God"                                     - VU 342


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


ST ANDREW'S THIS WEEK


CHILDREN'S HYMN: "This Little Light of Mine" (GATHER CHILDREN)
Today, we begin our year in a new way - with the singing of a song.  For
the next few weeks we will start this time of the service with the same
hymn - "This Little Light of Mine"

     This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. (3x)     
     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

     Hide it under a bushel, No!   I'm gonna let it shine.(3x)
     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

     Don't let anyone whff (blow) it out, I'm gonna let shine. (3x)
     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

     Let it shine in my hometown.  I'm gonna let it shine (3x)
     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
     
     See the light spreading round the world.  See all the faces shine. (3x)
     Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

- Note verse 1 Hold right forefinger up to represent light
- Note verse 2 Hold let hand, palm down, as cover over right forefinger,
               when you shout "No!" extend both hands and shake head
               vigorously.
- Note verse 3 For "whff" blow at the top of right forefinger, but say
               words "it out"
- Note verse 4 As verse one
- Note verse 5 Both left and right forefingers up, arms spread wide and
               upward.  Smile!


CHILDREN'S TIME: 
Object    None
Theme     Covenanting With The Church School
Source    Self, concept and some words from "The Whole People of God"
          (various years).

Special welcome - today Sunday School classes begin - where we learn new
things about God and about how he wants us to Live for Jesus.  What you do
- you students and you teachers - downstairs - and what we do here upstairs
- is all connected together and is all important.  We work together, each
in the way God has given to us, to build a stronger church - an ever more
faithful people of God.  The Sunday school has an important place in our
life together - it is the place where faith is nurtured in the young.

Without the students we are poorer - without the teachers and helpers we
are weaker - without you the parents and the rest of congregation we are
less than God wants us to be.  So today, in recognition of this fact - we
make a set of promises to one another before God - we enter into a covenant
- to love and support each other, to grow and learn together, and to make
God and faithfulness to him the centre of our lives.

     THE STUDENTS WILL STAND 
     Minister  Will you please repeat after me:
     Students  WE THANK GOD FOR OUR CHURCH SCHOOL
               FOR THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS,
               AND THE VISION OF CHRIST'S WAY. 
               WE WILL COME TO CHURCH SCHOOL
               AS OFTEN AS WE CAN 
               AND DO OUR BEST
               SO THAT WE MAY LEARN ABOUT GOD
               AND BE WITH THE FAMILY THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US.

     WILL THE PARENTS AND THE CONGREGATION PLEASE STAND
     Minister  Will you please repeat after me.
     People:   WE LOVE OUR CHILDREN.
               WE WILL ENCOURAGE THEM TO LIVE
               IN THE WAY OF CHRIST.
               WE WILL JOIN WITH THEM
               IN STUDYING GOD'S WORD.
               WE WILL TRY OUR BEST
               TO GROW WITH THEM IN FAITH.
               AND WE WILL SUPPORT THE WORK
               OF OUR CHURCH SCHOOL
               WITH OUR TIME, OUR TALENT
               OUR TREASURE, AND OUR PRAYERS.

     THE TEACHERS AND LEADERS WILL STAND
     Minister  Please repeat after me:
     Teachers  WE WILL WALK WITH GOD
               AND WITH THE CHILDREN AND YOUTH 
               OF OUR CONGREGATION
               WE WILL WORK TOGETHER 
               AND WITH GODS HELP
               WE WILL DO OUR BEST
               TO LEARN, TO LIVE, AND TO TEACH
               THE WAY OF CHRIST

LET US PRAY 
Loving God, as we have promised before each other and before you, so let it
be.  Pour out your power and your grace upon us.  Help us be your family
and to seek together to live your way; to learn together to do your will;
to work together to help one another; and to share with each other the joys
and concerns you place upon our hearts.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

DECLARATION    
In the name of God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I declare
this covenant to have been made.  May God bless us and keep us, both now
and forevermore.  Amen.


THE LORD'S PRAYER


FAVOURITE HYMN:   "One More Step Along The Road I Go"              - VU 639


A READING FROM JAMES 3:14 - 4:8(A)
     (NIV)  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your
     hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. {15} Such "wisdom"
     does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the
     devil. {16} For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you
     find disorder and every evil practice. {17} 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. {18}
     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? {2} 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. {3} When you
     ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you
     may spend what you get on your pleasures. {4} 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. {5} Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit
     he caused to live in us envies intensely? {6} But he gives us more
     grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives
     grace to the humble." {7} Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the
     devil, and he will flee from you. {8} 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, {31} 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." {32} But they did not understand what he meant and were
     afraid to ask him about it. {33} They came to Capernaum. When he was
     in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the
     road?" {34} But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued
     about who was the greatest. {35} 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." {36} He took a little child and had him stand
     among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, {37} "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:  "The Greatest Amongst Us" 

     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

I spent considerable time last week considering the meaning of the gospel
that we just heard.  In particular I was concerned about the second half of
the reading - that portion that deals with disciples rather heated
discussion about who among them was greatest and with Jesus' response to
their bickering and arguing:  "Whoever wants to first must be last of all
and servant of all."

I found myself making a common mistake in interpreting this scripture,
a mistake that is easy to make because it is a comfortable mistake,
the kind of mistake that in the long run lets us off God's hook.

The text seemed to say to me,
as it as said to millions before me,
that I should be beware of personal ambition,
that I should not seek to put myself first,
that true greatness lies not in self promotion, but in self-denial.

It said to me that greatness is not measured by the power and influence we
obtain over other people, but by how we serve others.

In fact the meaning of the passage was so clear that I planned on speaking
to you of each of us should strive for greatness in our own lives by
striving to love and serve others to the very best of our ability - and I
was going to sink the hook on that thought by challenging you to consider
Christ's greatness - how his glory came to him not by his seeking to be
first among all people, but by his self-giving upon the cross.

I think you will all agree that this is a good understanding of Jesus's
words about what we should do if we want to be "the greatest among us", if
we want to "be first"; yet, despite this instant reaction I had to today's
gospel, I felt something was lacking in my grasp of the passage,  and in
particular with what Jesus said and did after he had gathered the disciples
together and said: "Whoever wants to first must be last of all and servant
of all."

Recall with me what happened next.  It goes like this:

     "And then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and
     taking it in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one
     such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me,
     welcomes not me, but the one who sent me."

Why, I wondered, did Jesus associate the act of receiving a little child in
his name with being first in God's eyes?  With being greatest?

After all - children are wonderful are they not?

We love them and care for them.  Politicians and leaders of all kinds win
votes by hugging and kissing babies and by receiving entire groups of young
children at rallies and greeting and paying attention to our youth at
various public events.

No one really has problems with children do they?

The more I thought about - the more I wondered - just what was going on
that day in Palestine when Jesus spoke to his disciples about greatness and
then used welcoming a child as an example of what it means to be great in
the kingdom of God - as an example of what it means to welcome him.

You all know that Jesus normally turns things upside down when he speaks to
people.  He returns questions instead of answers to other people's
inquires.  He tells stories instead of giving the straight goods to people
who try to pin him down.  And above all - he defies conventional wisdom
about how the world operates and suggests that we need to do things that
are the exact opposite.

     "They would save their life will lose it, 
     but whoever loses their live for the sake of the gospel will save it." 

     "They would be first, must be last of all and servant of all."

     "Whoever receive a little child like this, receives Me."

How does that last statement, about what is a apparently a very natural
kind of act, fit?  Especially in a discussion of greatness?

Where is the upside down effort that Jesus normally demands of his
disciples?  

Where is the going of the second mile when someone forces you to walk one?  
The giving of the shirt when someone takes your jacket?
the turning of the other cheek?
the act of giving so that you might receive? 
and of dying so that you might live?

To me the passage only makes sense if children are somehow less important
to us.  It makes sense only if to receive a child is to somehow lower
oneself in the world's eyes and to be considered foolish because of it.

And that is, of course, the case, or rather  I should say, 
it was the case - in Palestine, and most of the world, during the time of
Jesus.

     Children were loved in the time of Jesus - as they are now - but
     they were not as important as they are today.  More than half of
     them did not live to be adults.  Many children were killed at
     birth (particularly girl children).  Others were simply put out
     in the field to starve to death.  In times of shortages of food,
     children were fed last.  None of this was intended to be cruel. 
     These were rather things people did because they felt they had to
     do them to survive.  Moreover children had no rights.  Parents
     could do to them whatever they thought necessary to make the
     children obedient or to force them to work for the family.  

It was not a good time to be a child.  Children, along with tax collectors
and sinners were considered to be second-class citizens.  They ranked last
in the consideration accorded to persons - even lower than women.  Children
were chattel, and as nice as they are - as unproductive, as burdensome, as
simply another mouth to be fed.

In some ways that attitude persists to our day - in some nations  Girl
children in certain countries are still killed shortly after they are born. 
Male children, if they become too numerous, also suffer the same fate. 
Does that sound horrible - unbelievable?   Think about our own society -
and about how children are most unwelcome in certain circles - how the
unborn are often aborted because they are regarded as a hindrance, as a
drain upon the emotional and economic health of upwardly mobile married
couples rather than for any true and compelling medical or psychological
reason....

     "They would be first, must be last of all and servant of all."
     "Whoever receive a little child like this, receives Me."

In this light - Jesus' words about greatness and about welcoming a little
child begin to make sense.

They make sense because, as usual, Jesus was calling his disciples to a
radical new vision of what the Kingdom of God is all about -- a radical new
vision of how life can actually be.

What room is there in that kind of life, that kind of kingdom, for
bickering about greatness, about status and prestige and power and
knowledge.  

It is time to get down on the floor to play!

It is time to forget about is convenient or inconvenient, 
and relish the natural joy of a baby being goochy-goochy-gooed.

It is time to forget about what might drain the pocket book or  make it fat
and full, and to listen to a child speak about how wonderful it would be to
share supper with the poor people down the street or over in that country
over there.

The kingdom of a child has no real slaves or real princes - it has joy and
delight and magic and power  and everyone prospers - and all evil is
vanquished.  To receive a child is to receive a vision - if we have but
eyes to see.

All this reminds me of a story. 

     Once upon a time these was a Squire who longed to be a knight. 
     He wanted to serve his king and be the most honourable and noble
     knight who ever lived.  At his knighting he was so overcome by
     dedication that he made a special oath.  He vowed to bow his
     knees and lift his arms in homage to his king and him alone. 
     This knight was give the task of guarding a city on the frontier
     of the kingdom.  Every day he stood at attention by the gate of
     the city in full armour.

     Years passed.  One day as he was standing at attention guarding
     his post a peasant woman passed by with goods for the market. 
     Her cart turned over spilling potatoes and carrots and onions
     everywhere.  The woman hurried to get them all back in her cart. 
     But the knight wouldn't help the poor woman.  He just stood at
     attention lest he break his vow by bending his knees to help pick
     up the woman's goods.  

     Time passed and one day a man with one leg was passing by and his
     crutch broke.  "Good knight, sir, reach down and help me up." 
     But the knight would not stoop or lift a hand to help lest he
     break his vow. 

     Years and decades passed, the knight was getting old.  One day
     his grandson came by and said, "Grandpa pick me up and take me to
     the fair."  But he would not stoop lest he break his vow to the
     king

     Finally after many, many, years the king came to visit and
     inspect the knight.  As the king approached the knight just stood
     there at attention.  The king inspected him as he stood there,
     but then he noticed that the knight was crying.  You are one of
     the noblest knights I have ever seen why do you cry?  Your
     majesty, I took a vow that I would bow and lift my arms in homage
     to you but I am unable to keep my vow. These years have done
     their work and the joint of my armour are rusted.  I cannot lift
     my arms or bend my knees.

     With the loving voice of a parent the King replied, "Perhaps if
     you had knelt to help all those who passed by, and lifted your
     arms to embrace all those who came to you, you would have been
     able to keep your vow to pay me homage today."

Jesus embraced a small child and said, "Whoever receives on such child
receives me and the one who sent me."  Most people would overlook a child,
but not Jesus.  If we want to receive the kingdom, we must receive the
King.  This king is not received by pomp and circumstance.  He is received
by humility and servitude - he is received by "self - forgetting.".

Being number one in God's kingdom is not about conquering or overcoming
another.  It's about putting others first. It's about the love of an
almighty God who stoops to a sinful world to be beaten, mocked and killed
so that a lost one like me might be found - so that a broken one like me
might be made whole - so that a wanderer like me might have a home to go
to.....

Greatness is achieved in Jesus's eyes,
     not just by the fact that we serve others, not just by the fact that
     we pour out our time and our talent for the sake of others,
Greatness in the eyes of Jesus
     is found in the willingness of his disciples to receive, to accept,
     and indeed to really welcome those they would normally consider un-
     receivable, unacceptable, and unwelcome.  To welcome others as a child
     welcomes others before he or she is taught to discriminate between
     friend and foe..

That is what Christ did when he lived and died for us and for the Creator
above.  He reversed the usual nature of things.  He made that which was
unholy, holy, that which was sinful - clean.

He welcomed us and he asks to welcome others - and that my friends is
something far different than mere acts of sacrifice and of service, far
different from acts of charity and being a person who is "civic minded".

What does Paul say about this?

     "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have
     love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I
     hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I
     gain nothing.  If I am last of all and serve all, but do not have
     love, my acts mean nothing."

Who do we find to be less than ourselves this day?  Who in our family do we
feel superior to?  What brother or sister do we regard as somehow less
acceptable than they ought to be?  What relative do we turn away at the
door because of some real, or some imagined offense?  Who does our
community scorn and reject?  Who is looked down upon for reasons of class,
or colour, or religion, or economics, or culture?

Who is greatest among us?  Who is the one who has the presence of Christ in
them?  The one who bears God to our very doorstep and then knocks and asks
if he or she can come in?

Let's get with the program folks - lets hug the children 
let's hug one another
let's hug God.

May those who have ears, hear 
May those who have eyes, see.

Blessed be God - day by day.  Amen


THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us Pray -- Lord, we come to you this day to thank you for the privilege
we have to be a part of your family.  We thank you for your goodness - we
thank you for your love.  Help us to remain consistent in our relationship
with you and in our daily walk as believers.  May we return good for evil
and bless those who curse us.  Keep us focussed on following in the
footsteps of Christ and doing as he did.   Lord hear our prayer.......

Father, help us to remember how precious we are in your sight and to
refrain from undermining our worth or the worth of others by comparing
ourselves to one another.  It is because we are different that each of us
special.  Make us a people who are grateful for the mercy we have received
and who in thanksgiving pour out the abundance of love that you shower upon
us.  Make us people who are open at both ends of the channel so that your
life might flow through us...  Lord hear our prayer....

Oh God of beauty and power and compassion - we know that you are in the
business of changing hearts and lives through the witness of believers and
the urging of your Spirit and we thank you for it.  Make us fitting
witnesses and grant us the grace to be people who reach out as every
opportunity comes to us - to be instruments of your healing and
transforming power.  We think, O Lord, not only of ourselves, not only of
our families, but we think of the world and those in it who need wholeness,
who need peace, who need a reason to have hope..... Lord, hear our
prayer....  Lord hear our Prayer

Lord too we ask you to listen as we hold up before you those in this world
who have little, those who because of the country of their birth or the
social circumstances that prevail suffer hunger and thirst, injustice and
war, and the other plagues that nations visit upon nations and even
neighbours inflict upon neighbours.  Grant that there may be a true sharing
of those things that earth affords.....  Lord Hear Our Prayer

Lord too hear our prayers for those folk who were named before us earlier
this morning - and those folk who even now are upon our heart and minds.... 
BIDDING PRAYER..... Lord, hear our prayer....

We ask all these things, O God, in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.  AMEN


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  The Offering Is Received and as it is presented
all stand for The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
#541) and the Prayer of Dedication

     Loving and Giving God - as Jesus humbled himself and offered all
     that he was and all that he had to you for the sake of the world
     - so we humbly come before you now and ask you to receive our
     offering.  We ask you to bless both it and us in your service so
     that your name might be glorified and your world made ever more
     whole.  Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Take Time To Be Holy"                          - VU 672


* 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 & THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and May God smile upon your every moment, 
may The Spirit energize your every hour, 
and may The Living Word guide your every step along the way
this both now and forevermore.  Amen.


SUNG 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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