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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 28 - Proper 23 - Year B
Hebrews 4:12-16; Psalm 22:1-18; Mark 10:17-31
"Sharper Than Any Double Edged Sword"


READING:  Hebrews 4:12-16; Psalm 22:1-18; Mark 10:17-31  
SERMON :  "Sharper Than Any Double Edged Sword"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or28su.y-b 899

   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:  Elements of the Prayer of Approach and the Prayer of
   Dedication from John Maynard (maynard@sympac.com.au) "Prayers and
   Litanies For Ordinary 28" as sent to the PRCL-List in October
   2000.  Elements of the Prayers of the People and the Benediction from
   Nathan Nettleton (nathan@webtime.com.au), "Eucharistic Preface -
   Proper 23" as sent to the PRCL-List in October 2000.  Some sermon
   seeds from Barry Robinson, "Keeping The Faith In Babylon - The Only
   Way In", October 2000 and Ralph Milton;s "Rumors Newsletter" 
   (rumors@joinhands.com),  2000.  The Children's time is based in part
   on "The Toothpest" in "The Boy With Blue Eyes" by Dorothy Brenner 
   Francis, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1979.


GATHERING 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    Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
P    We have a high priest 
     who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses
L    He has been tempted in every way, just as we are, 
     yet was without sin.
P    Therefore he is able to save completely 
     those who come to God through him, 
     because he always lives to intercede for them.
L    Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, 
     so that we may receive mercy 
     and find grace to help us in our time of need.


* INTROIT:  "This Is The Day" (verse 1)                            - VU 412


* PRAYER OF APPROACH 
Almighty God, source of every blessing, your generous mercy and love comes
to us anew every day.  By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge
your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing
obedience; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Hear our words of
praise and the prayers of our hearts and grant that we may have peace in
our lives and be ones who reveal your peace to the world around us.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "Jesus Loves Me"                                          - VU 365


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Cain and Abel"
Theme:    It Is Hard To Take Some Things Back
Object    Tube of Toothpaste, saucer, spoon
Source    Based in part on "The Toothpest" in "The Boy With Blue Eyes" by
          Dorothy Brenner Francis, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1979.

Good morning...  I once heard a poem about toothpaste that went like this: 

     I'd really like to tell the chap off
     who squeezes last
     and then leaves the cap off.

Does that ever happen in your home???   Does someone use the toothpaste and
leave the cap off???  It has happened in my home, and if we are not careful
we end up with toothpaste all over the place.  Today I brought some
toothpaste with me for our story time together.  I would like to conduct a
little experiment with it - and I need your help.  (Have someone hold the
saucer - then get two or three different kids to help squeeze it out).  
"Is it all out"???  Now what do we have???  (A plate full of toothpaste and
an empty tube).  Good - now let's put it back in....  (Have some kids try
to put it back in).  It is impossible isn't it?

In a way toothpaste is a lot like our words and our actions.  They are
things that we can't put back in once we let them out.  Now too much
toothpaste may get smashed into the carpet, or get all over the counter,
and look terrible - but it doesn't do too much harm - and generally it can
be cleaned up fairly easily.

But what we say and what we do are another matter.  Words spoken in anger
can do real harm - as can teasing - and hitting - and other things that
come out of our anger, our fear, or our envy.  Most of us can have
accidents with our words and actions - we may say things like "I hate you"
or "I wish you were dead" or "go away and leave me alone".  We may these
things to people we like very much - or to those we don't.  Whatever - once
we have said things or done things to hurt others - it is too late to take
it back - even if we say we are sorry damage has been done   like this
toothpaste squeezed out - and while we may clean up - it is impossible to
put it all back.   That is why putting a cap on the toothpaste is important
- it helps prevent a mess. 

Today in Sunday School you are going to hear the story of Cain and Abel,
two brothers - one of which was jealous of the other.  As you listen to the
story downstairs think about the lesson of the toothpaste - and ask God to
help you as you speak and act when you feel angry or upset with others.   

Pray now after me


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER

     Loving and Gracious God - help us think before we speak - and
     pray before we act. - Keep us from doing things - that hurt
     others - and that hurt you. - We ask it in jesus' name. - Amen

     And in the word's Jesus taught us

     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


CHILDREN'S 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!


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- 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 HEBREW 4:12-16
     (NIV)  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any
     double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and
     spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes
     of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's
     sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of
     him to whom we must give account. 

     Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through
     the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the
     faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable
     to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been
     tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let
     us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we
     may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 22 - Part 1 (VU page 744) and 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


A READING FROM MARK 10:17-31
     (NIV)  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on
     his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to
     inherit eternal life?" 

     "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good -
     except God alone.  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do
     not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,
     do not defraud, honour your father and mother.'" 

     "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a
     boy." 

     Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said.
     "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will
     have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me." 

     At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had
     great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
     "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"  

     The disciples were amazed at his words.  But Jesus said again,
     "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is
     easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a
     rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 

     The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who
     then can be saved?" 

     Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but
     not with God; all things are possible with God." 

     Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

     "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home
     or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields
     for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as
     much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers,
     children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age
     to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and
     the last first."

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


* HYMN:  "Amazing Grace"                                           - VU 266


SERMON:  "Sharper Than Any Double Edged Sword"  

     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

The gospel story today is one of the most familiar stories of the New
Testament and one of the most problematic - both for what it says about
those who are wealthy - and for what it says about who in fact can inherit
eternal life, who in fact can enter the Kingdom of God.

A man, who is both young and a ruler among his people (according to the
Gospels of Luke and Matthew) approaches Jesus with a question.  "Good
teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" he asks.

It is a question which reveals much and Jesus knows it, which is why he
responds the way he does.  

This is a man who doesn't have to worry about the life he already has.  His
mortgage is paid off.  His creditors have been looked after.  His stock
portfolio is brimming over with only blue chip merchandise.  He is truly
blessed in the ways that the world, and indeed many of the church, count
blessings.  And he wants even more: he wants the blessings of heaven - he
wants to enter the Kingdom of God and there dwell with Abraham and all who
gone before him.

Let us not have any doubts about the sincerity of this man.  His integrity
is beyond question.  When Jesus asks him if he has kept the commandments -
and in particular those that relate to how we treat one another 
     Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give
     false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother,
he responds that he has kept them all faithfully from the days of his
childhood   and Jesus, we are told, looked at him and loved him.

And then he tells the man that he lacks one thing, 
"Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor", Jesus says, 
"and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

We never really hear how things turn out for the rich young ruler.  We do
know that he goes away from Jesus very sad, because he had great wealth. 
What we do not know is whether or not he later follows the  command that
Jesus gave him.  Whether he does or doesn't is never mentioned and at one
level it is  not important for us to know.  But Jesus does say something
after the young man goes away that astonishes and perplexes his disciples.
He says to them 

     "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."

and when the disciples are amazed by these words, he goes on to say

     "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God.  It is
     easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a
     rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

I wish I could tell you just how perplexing it was for the disciples to
hear these words.  They, like so many of us, were raised to believe that
earthly wealth - especially that wealth acquired by those who adhered to
the customs, traditions, and laws of Moses - was a sign of God's blessing.  


And in a very real sense it is.

Consider the story of Job - righteous before God and blessed with
everything that a person could want till tested by Satan.  And how those
blessings were restored many times over when he passes his time of testing.

Consider the law itselfm which says, for example, in Deuteronomy, chapter
seven: (12-14)

     If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow
     them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with
     you, as he swore to your forefathers.  He will love you and bless
     you and increase your numbers.  He will bless the fruit of your
     womb, the crops of your land--your grain, new wine and oil--the
     calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land
     that he swore to your forefathers to give you.  You will be
     blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women
     will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.

The disciples were even more amazed, our story today continues, when they
heard these words of Jesus concerning how hard it is for the rich to enter
the Kingdom of God, and they said to each other "Who then can be saved?"

Indeed, who can be saved?

I received a letter not so long ago that reminded me of so many
conversations and letters I have had or received over the past 26 years as
a part of the church of Christ Jesus.

It said, in part.

     I have been attempting to learn more about God's word to calm my
     fears and reassure myself that I will indeed be welcomed into
     God's kingdom when the time comes.  Well, that is not
     happening....instead I am feeling that there is no chance of that
     happening.  I feel further from God every time I try to
     understand.  I know that I am a perfectionist and I know all of
     my faults, shortcomings and downfalls and what a letdown I have
     been to God who created me in His perfect image. 

     I have really been trying to put great whole hearted effort into
     listening to God and trying to do the things that He wants me to. 
     I feel that I just keep falling short of the mark, then haunt
     myself hour after hour as I lay awake at night.  Why am I getting
     farther from God instead of closer. Then I begin to analyse and
     become more critical. 

     "If I had more faith..... my feet would be healed"
     "If I had more faith..... I could forgive my sister"
     "If I had more faith..... I would not think mean, critical or
     harsh thoughts of others"
     "If I had more faith..... I would not speak gossip, criticize or
     scold"
     "If I had more faith..... I would have the same type of wisdom
     and insight that can be seen 
          in  all the other past and present members of my prayer group."
     "If I had more faith..... I would not have to work so hard to be
     a Christian"

     I really do try hard, but the more scriptures that I read and try
     to understand the more convinced I am that I am doomed.....

"Who then can be saved" the disciples ask Jesus.

What a question that is.   One that echoes in my heart not only as I
consider the rich young ruler or as I consider the plea of the woman who
wrote the letter I just read, but which echoes in my heart as I consider
how much I love God and yet how far I am from the perfection that God
demands of me.

One thing you lack....

I think every one of us here today, if we are brutally honest with
ourselves, realizes that we lack one thing - perhaps even more than one
thing.

As the reading from Hebrew's today says, and as the letter I read from my
friend indicated

     "the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-
     edged sword, it penetrates  even to dividing soul and spirit,
     joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the
     heat.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. 
     Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to
     whom we must give account."

That Word most surely judges us - and finds in us - not just one thing that
is lacking - but in many cases, many things lacking.
 
     "The more scriptures that I read and try to understand 
     the more convinced I am that I am doomed."

Could have the rich young man given everything away and followed Jesus and
thereby entered the Kingdom of God.  Was his problem simply that he loved
money more than he loved God.  

Perhaps.  

The love of money is most certainly an evil and Jesus' words about the
danger of being rich should give us all pause.  When the truth is told it
is all too likely true that for us, as it seems it may have been for the
rich young ruler, that when it comes to giving it away most people stop at
nothing, or next to nothing.

You know as well as I that there are many affluent people - and most of us
are that - who will quickly  profess their indifference  to money - or
disdain for it - as if to protect themselves from the charge that they are
over attached to it  - but who by their habits of spending - even on the
Sabbath Day - show that they value a big lunch or a shopping trip far more
than they value contributing to the work of God in their church and  their
community.

It is easy to fool ourselves when it comes to which we love more - God or
Mammon.  But that can change - for us - as much it could have changed for
the rich young ruler.

But all in all, money is but a symbol of what stands in the way of our of
entering the Kingdom of God and it is entirely possible to give up
everything for God - and still not have the heart that we need to enter
into his presence.

The Apostle Paul, who was one who had a religious pedigree and a
zealousness for God that was among the best, writes in the third chapter of
his letter to the Philippians:

     Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss
     because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss
     because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 
     For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard
     them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in
     him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the
     law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the
     righteousness from God based on faith.

And then, in his first letter to the Corinthians he reminds us
and undoubtedly himself:

     If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all
     knowledge, and 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.

"Who then can be saved", the disciples ask.

It is a profound question.  And Jesus answers it by saying,  
"With man this is impossible, but with God; all things are possible with
God."

The scriptures today speak to us of those things that are impossible to us
and of how the word of God reveals  to us, sometimes in the starkest
fashion, just who we are and how far we are from entering the Kingdom of
God.  A message, in short, that would be thoroughly depressing - if it were
not for the fact that the core message in today's reading is this answer of
Christ - that  all things are possible with God.  

My friends, as it says in the Letter to The Hebrews - in Christ we have a
high priest who is able to sympathize with us and help us.  He knows all
our flaws and imperfections and yet intercedes on our behalf.  Because of
his goodness we can approach the throne of grace with confidence - and we
called to do so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our
time of need. 

Inheriting eternal life is not something that we can earn - nor is entering
the Kingdom of God something we can work for.  There is nothing we can give
to obtain it.  It is free gift.  All we have to do is hold out our hands
and accept the gift.  It's both the easiest and the hardest thing we can
ever do. 

The easiest - because the gift is free.  
The hardest - because our hands are so often filled with other things.

I tell you today - keep holding out your hands - trust in God to show you
the love he has promised even as he reminds you over and over again to let
go of all those other things you worry about or value.

Praise be to God.


THE 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!

Gracious and all knowing God, we offer to you our thanks and praise.  You
have suffered with us and tasted despair that we might taste mercy and
grace.  Your word, living and active, created all things; and everything in
creation lies exposed before your eyes.  When our ancestors put their trust
in you, despite all the forces arrayed against them, you rescued them, for
all things are possible for you.  In the fullness of time you sent your
Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, preaching your message and calling
everyone to follow.  His word penetrates like a sword, cutting to the core
of all things, exposing the addictions that bind us and blind us and hold
us back from investing all we have in serving you.  When he was brought
down to the dust of death, dying in the horror of abandonment, you raised
him to life again, and through him we have the confidence to come into your
presence and look to your grace for our life.  We are awed and humbled, O
Lord, for we know that there is nothing in us that merits your  favour -
and yet you are not only able to help us, you are willing.   We thank
you.... and we ask that you help us be likewise willing and to offer 
ourselves to you with open hands...   Lord, hear our prayer.....

Loving God, we pray today for all your servants who know how far they are
away from entering the kingdom of God when these things are measured by
their own efforts and who are tempted to despair over this.  Give to them
the confidence and assurance of your grace and love that they may know the
peace of your presence as they serve you....  Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord, remind your people everywhere that you are the God with whom all
things are possible.  Grant that we here at St. Andrew's may serve in you
in all the ways you call us to serve - not counting the cost or worrying
about the outcome - and may your whole church do likewise around the world
today....  Lord, hear our prayer...

God of peace - we pray today for all those nations who are in conflict
today - especially we pray for the peoples of Israel and Palestine....  We
pray too for our own rulers and the various levels of our governments  that
they may administer with love and judge with righteousness....  Lord hear
our prayer...

Lord, we remember too before you those who were lifted up in our sharing
time - and we pray for them and for other people, and others needs and
concerns, both in the silence of our hearts and with the words of our
lips........   (BIDDING 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

     O God, for You all things are possible.  Teach us how you would
     have us follow you in true discipleship.  We offer you these
     gifts, and we offer ourselves, to be remade in your image and
     blessed in your service.  Grant us the power of your Spirit that
     we may truly be the body of Christ in this place - our earthly
     home.  These things we ask in Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "I Love To Tell The Story"                      - VU 343


* 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                                     - VU 971
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
Go in the confidence of people who have found mercy through him,
keeping the commandments and letting go of all that binds you to the ways
of this world,
- And may God come close to you and keep you safe;
- may Christ Jesus reward your faithfulness a hundredfold;
- and may the Holy Spirit be your help in time of need.
both now and forevermore.  Amen


SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                                  - VU 964


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



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