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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for The Third Sunday of Easter - Year C
Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; John 21:1-19
"An Ordinary Experience"


READING:  Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; John 21:1-19
SERMON :  "An Ordinary Experience"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ea03su 931000

   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 children's time is from Charles Kirkpatrick,
   "Sermons For Kids" (sermons4kids.com) for April 19 2004 and is
   reproduced with permission.
 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Revelation 5:11-14)
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    The angels and all the saints encircle the throne of God.
P    In numbers beyond counting they praise God in the highest.
L    They gather with the living creatures and the elders 
     and sing for joy. 
P    Worthy is the Lamb who was killed 
     to receive power and wealth 
     and wisdom and strength 
     and honour and glory and praise.
L    To him who sits on the throne
P    And to the Lamb who offered himself for us 
L    To God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
P    Be praise and honour, glory and might, forever and ever.  Amen.


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

PRAYER OF INVOCATION 
Loving God -- we thank you for the love that you have poured out upon us
through Christ Jesus.  We come before you, O God, as his servants.  We
come before you as a resurrection community, as an Easter people, and we
ask for your holy and transforming presence to be among us.  Bless us O
God at this hour, that we may become what you would have us be and that we
might bring honour and glory and praise unto your name and unto the name
of Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.  We ask it in his name.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Morning Has Broken"                                      - VU 409


CHILDREN'S TIME : "Love In Any Language"
Theme     It is easy to say, "I love you," but do we show it by our
          actions?
Object    No object is needed, but you could make a small sign with "I
          love you" written in the various languages that you plan to use
          in the sermon.
Source    Charles Kirkpatrick, Sermons For Kids (sermonsforkids.com) for
          April 19 2004.  Used with permission.

     The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love
     me?"  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do
     you love me?"  He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know
     that I love you."  Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.  (John 21:17)

A few years ago, there was a song that became very popular.  The name of
the song was "Love in Any Language."  Can you say, "I love you" in any
different languages?  This morning we can learn at least three different
ways to say, "I love you."

In German, you would say, "Ich liebe dich!" Can you say that?

In Spanish, you would say, "­Te amo!"  That is pretty easy.  Try it.

In sign language, you would say, "I love you" like this. (Hold up the "I
love you!" sign.)  I know that you can all say, "I love you!" in sign
language!

You know, it is pretty easy to say, "I love you," but it is sometimes a
lot harder to show it by our actions.  That is what our Bible story is
about today.

After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples several
times.  On the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples, he was
with them on the shore by the Sea of Galilee.  He turned to Peter and
said, "Peter, do you love me?"

Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Then, Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my lambs."

Jesus asked Peter again, "Do you love me?"

Again, Peter answered, "Yes Lord, I love you."

Jesus said to him, "Take care of my sheep."

A third time Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?"

Now Peter was very sad that Jesus asked him this question again, but he
answered Jesus again, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love
you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Why did Jesus ask Peter the same question three times?  I think he wanted
Peter to understand -- and he wanted you and me to understand -- that it
isn't enough just to say, "I love you."  We must show our love for Jesus
by showing our love for one another and caring for one another.

Do you love Jesus?

Then feed and take care of his sheep!  Now, that is love that can be
understood in any language.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
     Wonderful God -  help us to show our love for you -  by loving
     and caring for one another - in the name of Jesus. - Help us to
     feed one another - and to watch over one another - as he has
     done for us. - . Amen. 

     And as Jesus taught us, let us pray....

     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 


* HYMN: "Jesus Loves Me"                                           - VU 365


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


TIME OF SILENCE & AND INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (v2 of 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 ACTS 9:1-20
     (NIV) Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats
     against the Lord's disciples.  He went to the high priest and
     asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if
     he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or
     women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  

     As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from
     heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a
     voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

     "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. 

     "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.  "Now get up
     and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

     The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard
     the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground,
     but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.  So they led
     him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind, and
     did not eat or drink anything. 

     In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.  The Lord called
     to him in a vision, "Ananias!" 

     "Yes, Lord," he answered. 

     The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street
     and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In
     a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his
     hands on him to restore his sight."

     "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this
     man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.
     And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to
     arrest all who call on your name." 

     But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen
     instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings
     and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he
     must suffer for my name." 

     Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.  Placing his
     hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord - Jesus, who
     appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent
     me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy
     Spirit." 

     Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he
     could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking
     some food, he regained his strength.  Saul spent several days
     with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in
     the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 30 (VU 757) and the 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


ANTHEM / HYMN:  "We Shall Go Out With Hope of Resurrection"        - VU 586


A READING FROM JOHN 21:1-19
     (NIV)  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the
     Sea of Tiberias.  It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas
     (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of
     Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  "I'm going out
     to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with
     you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night
     they caught nothing.  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the
     shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 

     He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" 

     "No," they answered. 

     He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you
     will find some."  When they did, they were unable to haul the
     net in because of the large number of fish.

     Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the
     Lord!"  As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord,"
     he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it
     off) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in
     the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far
     from shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a
     fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 

     Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just
     caught."  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore.
     It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net
     was not torn. 

     Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast."  None of the
     disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?"  They knew it was the
     Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did
     the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus
     appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

     When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon
     son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" 

     "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." 

     Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 

     Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" 

     He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." 

     Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 

     The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love
     me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do
     you love me?"   He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know
     that I love you." 

     Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.  I tell you the truth, when you were
     younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when
     you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else
     will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 
 
     Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter
     would glorify God.  Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

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

* HYMN:  "Simon, Simon, A Fisherman"                               - VU 597


SERMON: "An Ordinary Experience"

     Loving God, as you opened the tomb and raised Jesus to new life,
     so open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit
     that as your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you
     say to us today, and in confidence go forth to live what you
     show us.  We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

As a teenager I engaged in what most teenagers engage in.  I tried to
figure out whether or not what I was thinking and feeling was normal or if
in fact I was as different from everybody else as I suspected I might be.

You ever done that?

And again, when I became a Christian - I tried to figure out what was a
normal way to experience the faith.  I only did that however - after I
noticed that my pattern of belief - my pattern of conversion - was not
shared as widely as I had first thought.

What I went through was nothing quite as dramatic as what Paul
experienced; but it did share some elements of what countless numbers of
people have undergone.

I began with nothing but a wish - a dream - a hope - that maybe there was
something more to life than what I could see, touch, and taste.  Something
more than "might makes right".  Something more than "survival of the
fittest".

I grew up in a home where God was almost never talked about,
and where the holy things of our faith were unknown.

So for me there was a time of longing - of seeking - of struggling - for
what I did not know;a time which finally cumulated in encountering a group
of Christians who engaged me in a conversation: a conversation over
several months, about God and about Jesus, and about how in Jesus God
shows his unconditional love and his redeeming purpose for all people,
- - even for one such as I.

And the love that this group of Christians showed me, and the willingness
they had to examine their own faith and their own assumptions about what
it taught, touched me - and permitted me as I was reading the Gospel
According to Luke one night in my little room in the basement of home near
the university, to move from unbelief to faith; from a life where the
Tarot Cards and Astrology were being used to give direction, to a life
where the law and the prophets provided guidance and the inner voice of
the Spirit was at last heard.

In short there was a day and a time when I gave my life over to God,
- a day and a time when I prayed what is known in some places as the
sinner's prayer, the prayer that goes something like this:

     Lord Jesus Christ, I repent of my sins.  I believe in you.  I
     want you to be Lord of my life, to cleanse my soul and open the
     gates of heaven to me.  Come into my heart.  Help me to follow
     you each day.  Rule in my life.  Amen

And so it was.  
And so it continues - day by day.

But - in my innocence - in my lack of knowledge - and in face of the
number of folk throughout history who have gone through something like
what I went through - I made an assumption back then, a common assumption:
the assumption that all "true believers" (you notice how I said that don't
you?) that all "true believers" must go through a time when they repent of
their past and consciously invite Jesus to be Lord of their lives.

And indeed there are many who tell us that this pattern of experience is
the normal pattern, indeed the only pattern, that ensures one's salvation; 
that the pattern seen in St. Paul 
     - who - though a believer in God - persecuted the church -
          and then - through an encounter with the Risen Christ and
          through the testimony of others - turns his life around and is
          made into a disciple and apostle of the good news.
Is the pattern that should be seen in us all.

John Newton - the composer of the hymn "Amazing Grace" which is so well
loved by the church around the world had the same kind of saving
experience as Paul.

Brought up in a rough circumstances, Newton became the captain of slave
trading ship.  He drank hard, he worked hard, and he hated with a passion
all things Christian, all things he saw as weak, all things that would
bridle his behaviour...
     and then - after years of self-loathing and of hating others, he
     heard the gospel with fresh ears - the Spirit worked in his heart -
and he gave control of his life over to Christ Jesus, ending his days as a
beloved Pastor in a church in London, ending his days as the author of the
words we love so well:

     Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
     I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Such profound and beautiful words.

But what about those who have never been lost?
What about those who have never been blind?

What about those who have believed from their mothers knee
and heard the gospel from the lips of their fathers or their grandfathers?

What about those who have ever worshipped God as revealed through Christ
Jesus those baptised as a child and confirmed as a young teen?

What about their experience?
What about their faith?

You know - we can so easily - even with the best and most loving motives -
make other people feel unimportant, unvalued, somehow second class.

We - with our seeking to define for ourselves what is normal so that we
can assure ourselves that we are normal end up imposing upon others our
definitions; we end judging others by the "one right way" we ourselves
have subscribed to.

And yet there are many ways that lead us into a whole relationship with
God and many people who have a whole relationship with God from their
infancy: a relationship that may have it moments of confession and
profession - it's times of wandering and returning - but whose essential
strands are never broken and whose certainties are never in doubt.

After all my years as a follower of Christ, I remain convinced of the
truth of what Kathryn Kulman, one of the last century's great evangelists
said when she wrote these words:

               "God has no grandchildren"

I understood some thirty years ago that to mean that no one can inherit
their faith, that each person must confess and profess for themselves.

That is most surely true.  

But that does not mean that those whose confession and profession has
happened countless times since they were but babes coming to worship and
repeating the creeds as we repeat them during this Easter Season are not
as equally loved by God and saved by God as those who have at one great
moment of their lives done it for the very first time in their basement
bedroom - or on a highway - or beside the seashore.

Nor does it mean that those who have said the Lord's Prayer and who have
called upon God over their meals and gone to Sunday School with their
parents or grandparents are any less devoted followers of Christ than
those who like Paul did not turn to Christ until later in their lives.

What it does mean is that everyone is called to have a personal
relationship with God through Christ Jesus  
     - and that relationship is one in which God accepts us as one of his
     much loved children,
     - and we accept God as a much loved - and supremely good - parent:
          a parent who calls us to a holy obedience and an everlasting joy
               an obedience and a joy that are based not on compulsion,
               but upon love.

What it also means is that each of us, from the youngest to the oldest, is
loved intensely and personally - as only a mother or father can love their
first born child.

What's normal?

In today's world as in the world of the past there are many people -
perhaps more than anytime since the Emperor Constantine made the faith
legal who will go through the pattern of call and conversion that Paul
went through, that John Newton went through:
     - an experience that leads them from being lost to being found, and
     from being blind to seeing,
     - from believing in nothing to believing in the God who does
     everything good.

And there are many who have always had the freedom, the sense of
     belonging, the vision, that folk like these have only come to latter
     in life
folk like many of you here have had since your grandmothers sang hymns
     over your cradle or your father took you to be baptised and your
     brothers and sisters accompanied you to Sunday School.

What unites us is not how we arrive at faith
nor is it even how we worship or where we worship or when we worship.

What unites us is the God who calls us all together 
     and who names us as Christ's brother's and sister's
     and who calls us to continue in faith - to love one another - to
watch over one another
     to know Christ as both crucified and risen
     and to trust in him.

There is one right way -
     but there are many roads that lead us to it,
there is one God - one Christ - one Spirit -
     but many believers, many experiences of coming to faith and staying
     in faith

St. Paul - whose conversion - or call - name it what you will - is
featured in today's readings once said this:

     If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in
     your heart that God raised him from the dead  you will be saved. 
     For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified 
     and with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

     As the scripture says, 'anyone who trusts in him will never be
     put to shame', for there is no difference between Jew and
     Gentile,  the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all
     who call on him."

I no longer know what is normal.
And I no longer care.

It is enough for me that God has called me to give my life over to him,
and that God will never let me be put to shame as long as I trust in him
and follow him.

And it is great joy when others -  the cradle born believers or the newly
re-born -  sing God's praise and give testimony to God's goodness and
strive to do what Peter - the rock upon which our church is built - was
called to do: when they feed Christ's sheep and tend the Lord's lambs.

I love the Lord
     and I love how in the way that is appropriate to each of us
          individually he calls us,
          how he knows our names 
     and remembers who we are
and makes us his own.

Peter or Paul,
Mary or Martha,
Richard or Robert,
Denise or Shelley
each of us are called 
and called each in a different way.

We are called and equipped by God 
we are named and blessed by Christ
- so that we might not only be blessed,
but bless others.

Let no-one, not even your own selves, say your faith is less important or
meaningful than someone else's, rather give thanks and glory to God for
the faith you have received and love Christ and feed his sheep, his lambs,
even as he has called you to do through Peter the Rock upon which the
church of God is built in this world.   Amen


PROFESSING OUR FAITH: The Nicene Creed                             - VU 920
L    With the whole church - with the company of all the redeemed
     let us confess and proclaim our Easter faith.
P    We believe in one God...


PASTORAL PRAYER AND PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Lord Jesus - we give you thanks that while there is only one faith - one
Lord - and one baptism - that there are as many ways to come to you as
there are people - and we thank you for those who faith has been strong
since childhood - and for those who have come to you only after a life
time of being blind or lost. We thank you for all who have fed your sheep
and nourished your lambs - for every person who has followed you in the
way and done as you have commanded.  Without them we would not be here. 
Help us Lord to be like them - even as you make us more perfectly who we
are....  Lord, hear our prayer....

Loving God - no matter how close we are to you - you persist in coming to
us and confronting us about how we are living our lives -- you come and
you challenge us, as you challenged Peter, to answer the question, "Do you
love me?"  Help us dear Lord to answer the question as did Peter  -- help
us to answer it not only with words - but  by how we care for one another
- for how we feed one another -- by how we tend one another.    Make us
and make your whole church an everlasting light to the world - just as you
have planned it to be....  Lord hear our prayer...

Loving Father - hear our prayers for those who would be enemies to you and
to your church and to the love that we owe our brothers and sisters in
this world.  Bring them, as you brought Paul, to a deep love for your Son
and our Redeemer....  Lord, hear our prayer...

Tender and Merciful Saviour - hear as well our prayers for all who need
your healing and redeeming love to touch their lives in a special way,
those persons we name in our hearts and with the words of our lips...
(BIDDING PRAYER)...  Lord Hear Our Prayer.... 

We praise you, O Lord, for hearing us and calling us to come unto you. 
And we give you thanks for the challenge and for the assurance of our
faith -  the challenge to follow Jesus wherever he may lead, and the
assurance we see in his life and death and resurrection.   We thank you
and we pray to you in his most glorious name.  Amen


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
         
     O God - you have poured out upon your people in this place the
     riches of your grace.  Help us to share these riches - bless
     what we offer here today on these plates and within our hearts -
     may it all be worthy of us and of what you have done for us.  We
     ask it in the name of Christ Jesus our brother and our Lord. 
     Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:   "Will You Come and Follow Me"                  - VU 567


* COMMISSIONING:  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 AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go love and care for one another in the name of Christ Jesus
- and may the blessing of God Almighty, 
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer,
- be with you now and abide in you forevermore.  Amen
  

* CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                               - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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