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Sermon and Liturgy (3) For Ordinary 33- Proper 28 - Year B
Hebrews 10:11-25; Psalm 16; Mark 13:1-8
"The Mystery of God's Judgement"


READING:  Hebrews 10:11-25; Psalm 16; Mark 13:1-8
SERMON :  "The Mystery of God's Judgement"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or33su.y-b 904000

   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: Call to Worship based on that by Ruth Duck as cited by
   Bass Mitchell (bassm@va.tds.net) in "Nov 19 Worship Resources" as
   sent to the PRCL List, November 13 2000.  The prayer of approach
   is also from Bass Mitchell, "Nov 19".  The story, "The Long
   Silence" is a traditional story shared by BobBarnes
   (boblibby@voyager.co.nz) with the PRCL List on November 17 2000.


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    Come to Christ, the living stone, rejected by the world, 
     but in God's sight chosen and precious.
P    We have responded to Christ's call,
     and seek to be built into a spiritual house,
     a living reminder of God's presence on earth.
L    Once we were no people, but now we are God's people,
     called out of the darkness into God's marvellous light.
P    Therefore we sing with the Church in all ages:
     Blessed be your name, O God, our Redeemer.
     By your mercy we have been born anew to a living hope
     through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.


* PRAYER OF APPROACH 
Loving God, we come to you out of a world that is often scary.  We hear of
wars and rumours of wars.  We hear of earthquakes and troubles everywhere. 
It is frightening, Lord.  We hear so many things about the future and we
wonder if they are true.  Help us in this time and place to be still, to be
quiet and to listen for your voice, to become sensitive to your presence. 
Teach us, Good Lord, what we need to know.  Remind us of who you are and
who you have called us to be.  Calm our fears and help us trust totally in
you and your providential care - we ask it in the name of Christ Jesus. 
Amen.


* HYMN:   "Will Your Anchor Hold"                                  - VU 675


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


CHILDREN'S HYMNS:  Today, we learn two Hymns, which we will use for the
next few weeks.
           
     ---- O COME LITTLE CHILDREN ----
     O come, little children, oh, come, one and all
     To Bethlehem haste, to the manger so small,
     God's Son for a gift has been sent you this night
     To be your Redeemer, your Joy and Delight.
             
     He's born in a stable for you and for me.
     Draw near by the bright gleaming starlight to see,
     In swaddling clothes lying, so meek and so mild,
     And purer than angels, the heavenly child.
           
     Kneel down and adore him with shepherds today,
     Lift up little hands now, and praise him as they
     Rejoice that a Saviour from sin you can boast,
     And join in the song of the heavenly host.

     ---- KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK ----
     Clippety-clop went the donkey, on the way to Bethlehem.
     The donkey carried Mary - he was a big help to them.
     Mary, Mary, your Son will be born tonight!
     Joseph, Joseph, God's Son will be born tonight.
            
     Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, like a diamond in the sky.
     Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, like a diamond in the sky.
     Shining!  Shining!  In the sky o'er Bethlehem!
     Shining!  Shining!  In the sky o'er Bethlehem!


CHILDREN'S TIME: "God Makes It Right"
Theme     God erases evil to make room for the good "
Object    White Board and Pens
Source    Harold J. Uhl "The Gospel For Children", Augsburg, 1975, page
          116-7

Today I am going to do an arithmetic problem.  You can think along with me. 
 (Put on board 2+2=).  Now, let's see.  Ah, I know it.  (Put down 3).  Hmm
- that's not very good.  However, I am fortunate.  I have a good teacher
who wants to help.  A good teacher won't let that answer be that way. 
(ERASE the 3).  Now what do I do?   Do I say "Look it may not be a good
answer, but at least it was an answer, and now you have wiped it out?". 
No, because a good teacher is only satisfied with the best I can do.  I
should be glad the wrong answer are put away.  So, just as God forgives my
sins, that old wrong answer is gone, wiped out.  Now of course, I don't
just sit down.  I have to keep answering and changing until I come up with
(write 4) the right answer.  Only then can I be satisfied.

Girls and boys, in many ways the world is coming up with wrong answers to
life.  We do things bad or wrong; we treat each other wrong; we need
correction.   God is not any more happy with this than we are.  Just as we
erased the wrong answers on this board, some things have to be destroyed
because they are wrong.  We have to be put to a test.  This is not just to
destroy, but in order to make room for the right answers, for God's way.  
God has promised that we will not have to live with wrong forever.  He
tells us he will remove the things that are bad so that, at the end, he can
save those who stay close to him.  The world may be wrong sometimes, but
God will make it right again.  That is the reason Jesus was born in
Bethlehem so many years ago - and that is why he has promised to come again
- to bring the time when everything is right.    Until then, let us trust
in him and do all those things he asks us to do. Let us pray:


PRAYER AND THE THE LORD'S PRAYER   

     Dear Father and Mother of us all    source of all goodness --
     keeper of our souls -- we thank you for loving us -- for keeping
     us safe -- and taking away our fears -- Help us remain close by
     your side -- where blessings are found - and no evil is allowed -
     - we ask it in our brother Jesus' name. -- Amen

And in the words of Jesus let us say our family prayer...

     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


ANTHEM


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 HEBREWS 10:11-25
     (NIV)  Day after day every priest stands and performs his
     religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices,
     which can never take away sins.  But when this priest had offered
     for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right
     hand of God.  Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made
     his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect
     forever those who are being made holy.  

     The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.  First he says:
     "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says
     the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write
     them on their minds."  Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts
     I will remember no more." {And where these have been forgiven,
     there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 

     Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most
     Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way opened
     for us through the curtain, that is, his body,  and since we have
     a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God
     with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our
     hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and
     having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold
     unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is
     faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on
     toward 
love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in
the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as
you see the Day approaching.

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


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 16  (VU page 738) and Gloria Patri Sung

     Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. 
     As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
     World without end.  Amen 


A READING FROM MARK 13:1-8         
     (NIV)  As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to
     him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent
     buildings!"

     "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one
     stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown
     down." 

     As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,
     Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when
     will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are
     all about to be fulfilled?" 

     Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many
     will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. 
     When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. 
     Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation
     will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
     be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the
     beginning of birth pains.

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


* HYMN:  "Unto The Hills Around"                                   - VU 842


SERMON:  "The Mystery of God's Judgement

     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 reading this morning is the beginning of the chapter of Mark
known as the Mini-Apocalypse.

The Apocalypse is that series of events which signals the end of time as we
know it,
the end of time as we know it- and the end of this world as we know it.

During that time - the times of the end - it is written that the faithful
will suffer terrible persecutions as evil strives to destroy all that is
good; and at the end of that time evil itself will be totally destroyed.

The Apocalypse is a time of judgement
A time that we all, in one way or another, will enter into or experience,
whether we are in heaven or on earth,
whether we are interceding for the faithful before the throne of God,
or whether we are the ones being interceded for.

This week there was quite a discussion of this morning's extract from the
Apocalypse of Mark
a discussion that centred for the most part on the horror of those days
described by Jesus
and whether or not God would actually unleash the kind of indiscriminate
violence
the kind of judgement that the thirteenth chapter of Mark and The
Revelation to John describes.

Wars, earthquakes, persecutions, the end of things like the Temple in
Jerusalem,
deadly pollution and stars falling from the sky, 
it all sounds a little much to a lot of people -
and they either don't believe it will happen 
- or they don't believe God would operate that way.

Will it happen?

Look around the world my friends - it has been happening since the day the
curtain in the temple was torn in two - it has been happening since the day
the stone was rolled away to reveal the empty tomb.

We are living in the end times 
- in the time when the wheat is separated from the chaff
- in the time when God's people are persecuted and harassed and killed, 
- in the time when all manner of evils are loose upon the face of earth,
evils which has been intensifying from century to century as they struggle
to quench the light of God.

The question is not - is the time of the end described in the scriptures
real? 
- no sane person can doubt that if they have the eyes to see and the ears
to hear -
     but whether or not God judges the peoples and sifts the nations in
     this fashion?
          whether or not it is God who permits the innocent to suffer as
          they wait the final day?
      and whether or not God will, in the end, erase evil from the world  
as totally as I erased the incorrect sums  from the equations I wrote
during the children's time?

One of the great mysteries of God is the mystery of God's judgement.

How is it that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer?
How is that God's judgement is balanced with God's grace?
And how is that God seems to use violence to bring to an end the ways of
violence?

I have no doubt my friends that the history of our planet over the last two
thousand years is a history of the approaching end of all things    and I
have no doubt about who the author of the violence and the horrors is  --
nor should you!

Evil my friends calls down it's own judgement upon itself.
Those who hate, end up swallowing up themselves in hatred.
Those who are greedy - consume their very selves as they seek for ever more
than they have
Those who are violent - perish by the very violence they unleash.

Like a giant sun whose light has gone out and which is collapsing into
nothingness
so the evil about us will come to an end - for nothing can come of nothing
unless God wills it otherwise.

What we see about us
     - how we see here in Canada the Christian faith mocked and scorned and
     described as an evil thing by the media and by candidates for
     Parliament as they seek election or re-election; 
     - how thousands of Christians are being killed each year in places
     like India, Africa and the Far East  for no other reason than the fact
     they bear the name of Christ 
     - how horrors like those of Nazi Germany and Somalia and Iraq and
     Yugoslavia are loosed upon the world - upon people of every race creed
     and colour - more and more frequently
     - how famines sweep the earth while food is discarded and fertile
     earth is buried under parking lots and shopping malls
cannot be blamed upon God.
 
But it can be seen to be used by God to accomplish his purpose.  
And it can be seen that out of what is happening around us new life will
come.

Jesus says in today's reading from the Gospel of Mark 
after saying how the temple - the largest and most important edifice of the
last age - will be destroyed
     and how there will be wars and rumours of wars
     and how nations will rise against nations
     and there will be famines and earthquakes
 that such things must happen, but the end is still to come,
that such things are the beginning of birth pains.

What we see about us is the ending of the old world
and the coming of a new one.

And there is not only mercy in the coming of the new world
But there is a mercy in the length of time that it takes for the old world
     to cease
for the old world to consume itself to make way for the new.

There is a mystery to God's judgement
and part of that mystery is this - - that God permits evil to practice its
arts upon the good
     - if it could not then none of us could be called free -
and that while evil is practising its arts - an art that will surely lead
to it's destruction
     - God calls each and every one of us to change sides and to become
     citizens of that world that is yet to come - that world that he is
     bringing to birth in our midst.

What I am saying, and what the scriptures teach
is that God offers mercy to who all who desire it,
and that the time of the ending, 
     - an ending that is inherent in those forces which seek to end all
     that is good
is extended so that all might choose aright - so that all who desire it may
be part of the new life that is being brought to birth.

God's judgement is a mystery -- especially as it relates to how the
innocent suffer with the guilty during the time of the ending  -- during
this time we live in.

And how God balances justice and mercy in his judgements -
     so that evil does vanish away and what is good does triumph  and
     brings forth new and everlasting life
is not something that anyone can speak of lightly 
     - as if all the answers are known
all we can say - as a people of faith - is that God will judge rightly -
and God will do good, not harm. 
  
A story - a parable if you will, about suffering and about the end times in
which we live - that someone shared on the Internet this week as folk
discussed today's gospel reading.  It is called "The Long Silence". 
 
     At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great
     plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant
     light before them.  But some groups near the front talked
     heatedly - not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
   
     "Can God judge us?  How can he know about suffering?"  snapped a
     young brunette.  She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed
     number from a Nazi concentration camp. "I've endured terror ...
     beatings...torture....death!"

     In another camp a Negro boy lowered his collar, "What about
     this?'"he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn, "Lynched for no
     crime but being black!"

     In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. "Why
     should I suffer?" she murmured.  "It wasn't my fault."  Far out
     across the plain were hundreds of such groups!   Each had a
     complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in
     his world.
   
     "How lucky God was to live in heaven", they said, "where all was
     sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no
     hunger or hatred!  What does God know of all that humankind had
     been forced to endure in this world?  God leads a pretty
     sheltered life", they said.

     So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because
     he had suffered the most.   A Jew, a Negro, a person from
     Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child..
   
     In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other.  At
     last they were ready to present their case.  It was rather
     clever.  Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must
     endure what they had endured.  

     Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
     - as a man!  Let him be born a Jew.  Let the legitimacy of his
     birth be doubted.  Give him a work so difficult that even his
     family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. 
     Let him be betrayed by his closest friends.  Let him face false
     charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by cowardly 
     judge.  Let him be tortured.  At the last, let him see what it
     means to be terribly alone.  Then let him die.  Let him die so
     that there can be no doubt he died.  Let there be a great host of
     witnesses to verify it.
   
     As each leader announced his portion of the sentence loud murmurs
     of approval went up from the throne of people assembled. When the
     last had finished pronouncing sentence there was a long
     silence.....  No one moved....  For suddenly all knew that God
     had already served his sentence.

My brothers and sisters, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us
today in a way that the gospel passage does not,  that God has come among
us - not to serve his sentence - for it is not he who has created the
suffering in this world - but to serve ours - and to open to us the gates
of heaven.

The mystery of God's judgement is found in the fact that he judges with
great love
     - and while all that we are familiar with will be shaken to its core 
     - and while there will be a time when the wheat will be separate from
     the chaff, a time when that which has gone around will come around 
the wheat will be saved out, the good will transformed from one degree to
another, and what will come around and pour out ever more blessings than
this world can afford us - is a new world.

Christ Jesus lives to intercede for us -  and calls us to live with him 
- both now as our old self passes away, and forever as we are reborn with
our  world.

As the writing of the letter to Hebrew's concludes in today's reading:
  
     Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of
     faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty
     conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us
     hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is
     faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on
     toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together,
     as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one
     another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

That day is approaching - ever and ever closer.  Praise be to God for it.


THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious and merciful God - you who open the gates to heaven to all who
call upon you  - we thank you for your unconditional and totally accepting
love - a love that asks us to do the best we can and which embraces us with
warmth and encouragement when we stumble and fall.  Help us O God to live
by that love and to announce that love and show that love to all our
brothers and sisters....  Lord hear our prayer....

Lord of Light, source of all that is eternal - you who drive out darkness
and whose will is to bring all people to a world of light - be with us, in
our hearts and in our minds, upon our lips and in actions of our hands,
when we see the world around us falling apart.  Help us remember that you
are in charge of all things and that your hand has brought us safe thus far
and then help us to encourage others for the facing of the hour of
trial....  Lord hear our prayer....

Grant O God of mercy and compassion, of strength and of healing - the
tender touch of your inward spirit upon those who fear and despair this
day....  Bless with a vision of joy and peace all those who experience
loneliness and struggle....  Pour out your energy upon those whose light is
fading and shine upon all those who sit in darkness....  Lord hear our
prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for those in authority throughout the nations of the
earth.  Grant them a vision of your kingdom come to this world - and show
them how to make it real in their conduct and their governance....  Lord
hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for your church - help all who partake of it's sacred
mysteries to enter into the temple that is not made with human hands and by
their worship and their obedience, their praise and their love - to open
the doors wide for all people....  Lord hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, that you would shine upon and touch those we name before
you in our hearts now - be it ourselves, or the person next to us - or
those who at our homes - or those who are far off...  .... BIDDING
PRAYER...

Lord, hear our prayer..

Hear O God these prayers and all the other prayers we offer to you in our
hearts at this time -- we ask it in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, he
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
forever.  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

     Receive, O God, our gifts at this time, with the gifts of our
     brothers and sisters around the world.  Use them for your work of
     healing and bringing hope.  Grant that we might be able to serve
     you with confidence and share your peace with the joy, the
     wisdom, and the gentleness of your Holy Spirit.  We ask it in
     Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "How Firm A Foundation"                         - VU 660


* 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,
- and the Lord bless you with his courage and his faith, 
- may he touch you with his strength and his tenderness, 
- and may he wash you with his mercy and his love, and keep you safe in his
presence
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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