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Sermon and Liturgy for The Fifth Sunday In Lent - Year C
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4(b)-14; John 12:1-8
"The Main Thing"

READING:  Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4(b)-14; John 12:1-8
SERMON :  "The Main Thing"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-le05smsu.y-c 605925

   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 Call to Worship is loosely based on one cited by John
   Maynard in "Prayers and Litanies for Lent 5c" as sent to the PRCL
   List in March 2001.  Sermon materials from Dana Carroll, "The
   Priesthood of All Believers" and other notes posted on TELOS during
   the week of March 25th to April 02, 1995.  Also Earl C. Davis
   "Becoming A Christian" (April 2 1995) in "The Abingdon Preaching
   Annual 1995" and "Been There, Done That, No Thanks!" in King
   Duncan, "Dynamic Preaching", April, May, June 1995

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

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  Our God has done great things for us.  Sing aloud for joy.
P  Our Lord has filled our hearts with peace.  
   Our tongues will declare God's praise 
L  Our God has done great things for us.  Call upon his name.
P  Our lives overflow with God' goodness.   
   Our mouths will proclaim his righteousness.
L  Our God has done great things for us.  
   Show forth your trust in him.
P  Our God has changed our lives and redeemed our souls.  
   We will glorify him, both now and forevermore.

* INTROIT:  "Holy, Holy, Holy"  (verse 1)                          - VU 315

Gracious and life giving God - you who make all things new by your saving
and creative love - you who redeem the lives of your servants and reach
out to those who are lost -- descend we pray upon us this day.  Hallow us
with your presence and implant within our hearts the seed of your living
word so that we may grow fruit that is pleasing to you.  Reveal to us the
things that you want us to see - show us what it is you would have us do -
and strengthen us as we walk as pilgrims through this world.  We ask it in
the name of Christ Jesus -- Amen.

* HYMN  "One More Step"                                            - VU 639

CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Running The Race"
Object    - Running Shoes
Theme     - Keeping Sights on The Goal - Running To Win
Source    - Self

Good morning --  Today I brought a pair or running shoes with me because
the Apostle Paul often speaks about the Christian life as being like
running a race to win a prize - the prize being our calling in Christ to
enter heaven with him.

How many of you like to run???  Are you very fast???  Do any of you ever
run in races at school or elsewhere???  What do you do if you want to run
a race and do you very best???  (train, practice run, have the right
equipment) Tell me - what do you look at while you are running???  Where
do you look???   When I used to run the coach always told me to not look
behind me???  Do you know why he might have said that???  

Paul compares our life in Christ - our life as his believers - to a race. 
He says that to get where we are going - which is heaven - we should
forget what lies behind us - and look forward to the goal - and press on
towards it as best we can.   For this we need some special equipment - can
you guess what it is???   (bible, prayer, faith)   And we should look
always to what God wants us to look at - good things - and not spend any
time looking at things that will hold us back. 

   Gracious and Loving God - we thank you for running shoes - and for
   the strength to run.  - Help us Dear God - to keep our eyes fixed
   on the goal - and to run straight and true.  Keep us focussed - so
   that we might win the prize - which you give to all who finish the
   course. - Amen

   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

SONG OF PRAISE:  "The Shepherd"

   The shepherd is the man we know
   who guards his sheep each day.
   And that is how Jesus watches us
   when we're at work or play.
   The shepherd leads his sheep to food
   and shows them where to rest,
   And so does Jesus lead us too,
   and help us know what's best.

- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


   (NIV)  This is what the LORD says-- he who made a way through the sea,
   a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and
   horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there,
   never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:  "Forget
   the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new
   thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way
   in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  The wild animals honour
   me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert
   and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen,
   the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

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

RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 126 - Voices United 850 and Refrain #1

   (NIV)  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the
   flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of
   Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to
   the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for
   legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I
   now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider
   everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing
   Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I
   consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not
   having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that
   which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from
   God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his
   resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming
   like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection
   from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have
   already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for
   which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider
   myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting
   what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward
   the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in
   Christ Jesus.

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

* HYMN:  "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross"                        - VU 149

   (NIV)  Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where
   Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was
   given in Jesus' honour.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those
   reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure
   nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his
   feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of
   the perfume.

   But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him,
   objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the
   poor?  It was worth a year's wages."

   He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was
   a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what
   was put into it.  

   "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should
   save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the
   poor among you, but you will not always have me."

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

SERMON:  "The Main Thing"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
   thoughts we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen.  Amen.

Some time ago now, In The United Methodist Church in the United States,
there was a movement afoot called "Quest for Quality".  During that time
one United Methodist Bishop spoke to the pastor and three lay-leaders from
each of the churches in his diocese.  The meeting was about a new paradigm
for the church.  

   The old paradigm, said the Bishop, is that we have been focussing
   on problems.  If we don't have enough money we focus on
   stewardship.  If we don't have enough people, we focus on
   membership drives.

   The new paradigm, the bishop said, is "to make sure that the main
   thing is the main thing".  The main thing for the church is
   spiritual growth, nurture, Bible reading; not meetings, money,
   membership, or even (I hate to say this) doing justice. If we take
   care of the main thing, feeding people spiritually, then they will
   be able to take care of  everything else.

   According to this paradigm, the important thing to understand is
   the flow.  The flow is circular.  People come into the church where
   they ought to be fed and nurtured spiritually, through prayer,
   Bible study; and then they go out into the world to do their
   ministry in the family and work place.  Then they come back to
   church bringing others with them and the cycle starts again.

I think that the bishop is right.  I think we in the church all too often
focus on the wrong things - both in our life together as a community or
family of believers, and in our lives as individuals within the larger

And I think people's grouchiness in the church and at home, 
   their critical natures, 
   their power and control issues,
are a result of this wrong focus.

That seems to be what the problem is with Judas in today's gospel reading,
and that seems to be the problem with many other people today.

If we focus on what other people are doing or not doing to make things
work the way we think they should work;
   If we focus on the problems that we have as a church, or the problems
   that we have as individuals,  
that will not fix the problem.

It will just make us feel aggravated - anxious - and resentful.
We need to do much more than focus on the problems we have.
We need to focus on the solutions.

Or as the United Methodist Bishop put it - on the "main thing".

For us in the church - and indeed for us as we go beyond the church we
need to focus spiritual growth and nurture,
   on what Paul calls in today's epistle reading "the prize of the
   heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ."
If we are focussed on that - then if the Bishop is correct - and I know he
is - everything else will fall into place.

Recall what Jesus said in the Sermon On The Mount about anxiety and worry.
About being focussed on our needs rather than upon God:

   "Do not worry, saying, What we will we eat?  Or What will we drink? 
   Or What will we wear?  Your heavenly Father knows that you need all
   these things.  Rather strive first for the kingdom of God and God's
   righteousness and all these things will be given you as well." 

It's quite a challenge isn't it?  A challenge to a different way of
looking at things.  A different way of dealing with problems and worries
that we face as a church and as individuals.

John Wesley used to ask his people on a regular basis: 
"What's the state of your soul?"

It is a great question - but it's not one we ask very much anymore.  We
can get so busy within the church going to meetings and worrying about
money and about human resources that the "main thing" gets lost - and our
behaviour - our words and actions - can end up working against the main
thing instead of for it.

And outside the church - in our homes - the main thing - is often
virtually invisible.  We not only don't walk the walk, we often don't even
talk the talk - reserving it all, as it were to Sunday mornings.

Think about it.

We talk more about who will win the Stanley Cup than we talk about where
   we are going in life.
We focus more on the condition of our neighbours' back yard or whether or
   not we should get a new car - than we do on seeking the mind of Christ
   and asking him what we should be about.
We worry more about how our children will do on the local hockey or
   baseball team than we do on whether or not they will grow up to be
   people who know the Lord and his love in their lives and are able to
   show that love to others.

My friends -concern for the poor - such as Judas may well have had and
giving extravagant gifts, like the gift Mary gave to Jesus, are not
mutually exclusive things.
Neither are a fondness for sports and a dedication to doing God's will
necessarily contradictory.

And our children most certainly can be encouraged to excel in physical
things - while at the same time learning to live a deeply spiritual life.

The question is - what is the main thing in our lives?  
What do we give priority to as part of the church of Christ Jesus?
and as individuals when we go home afterward?

   "Oh why are we so haggard at heart, so care coiled, care-killed, so
   fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered?" wrote the poet Gerald
   Manley Hopkins.

Why indeed?  
Why indeed do so many of feel so scattered?  So overwhelmed?
Could it be that we try to do too much?
Or could it be that when we are doing things - we are approaching them
from the wrong angle?

Perhaps it is a little of both.  Perhaps it is a question of focus,
of knowing what the main thing is - and making it the main thing.

Paul understand that when he talked about his background, and how blessed
he had been by the cultural and religious standards of his day, and then

   "Yet whatever gain 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."

   This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining
   forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the
   prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus"

The past is not what is important my friends,
   nor is what lies to either side of us, those things that can cause us
   to run off in all directions at once.
The goal is what is important,
and following the course that gets us there.

For many of us, our hopes and dreams in life centre around our jobs.  
That's not surprising.  That's where we spend most of our time. 
Our jobs give us the resources for achieving our goals in life.  
It is natural that we should have dreams concerning our work. 

Research shows, however, that around age 45, those dreams begin to change. 
By then men begin to have some idea whether they are going to keep growing
in their work or whether they have gone as far as they will go.  If they
conclude they have reached their limit--that there is no dream out there
for them to pursue - they shift their dreams toward retirement.  In fact,
some of them retire then and there in their minds.  That is why some men
in the middle years of life,  when they ought to be in their prime, become
somewhat listless and begin feeling tired all the time. 

The problem is not physical.  It's spiritual. 
They've lost their dream. 

Meanwhile women who have spent most of their adult lives as care givers
are beginning to taste freedom for the first time.  So while their
husbands are winding down, many women are thinking about going back to
school or starting their own business.  They are excited.  They bubble
over with possibilities

How you feel about life is related to your sense of purpose.  
To what you consider the main thing. 

How the church - how we - manage to deal with our problems also relates to
our focus - to what we exert our efforts towards.

Paul is rather found of sports images, 
of images taken from the World Games of his day.

In I Corinthians - chapter nine - he writes: 

   Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only
   one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it. 
   Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive
   a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run
   aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I discipline
   my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I
   myself should not be disqualified. 

Five simple things can help us discipline our spiritual life - and bring
us closer to winning the prize of our calling in God.  Five things can
help us meet our problems as a church and as individuals from an entirely
new angle - from an angle that focuses not on the problems - but on the
great problem solver - God.

First  - Recognize your strengths and virtues - but resist complacency. 
   There is nothing positive in  thinking that you are devoid of good. 
   But there is danger in being satisfied with the degree of goodness and
   closeness you have with God today.  God can always make you more like
   Christ than you are right now.  

Second - Accept the need to work and struggle spiritually.  Salvation is a
   free gift.  But a vital, intimate relationship with God does not come
   effortlessly.  No relationship does.  Athletes know their abilities. 
   They also know that they must work to keep those abilities up to snuff
   - let alone to improve them.

Third  - Study the Bible - especially the gospels.  We can't be more like
   Christ if we don't really know what he was like.  Meditate on how the
   scriptures show Jesus dealing with life.  Pay attention to his
   priorities, to his conflicts, to his actions, and to his teachings. 
   Let these things be used by God in your life to challenge your
   thinking - to test how you do things.  Every athlete studies the
   techniques of those who are better than him or her so that they might
   improve themselves.

Fourth - Continue in prayer.  Confess your failings and open your life to
   the transforming power of God. Don't forget to listen as well as to
   talk.  In prayer face the reality of whose you are and learn to submit
   yourself to God's purpose for you.  Let him show you the direction you
   should run in - the path you should take.  Athletes have their coaches
   to show them what to do and how to go about doing it.  They don't
   ignore them.  Nor should we ignore ours.

And Fifth  - Don't fear change.  Change is the name of the game.  We need
   to change.  When we are open to God not only will we change - but
   things around us will change.  Growth is a process of changing - and
   that process is not always pain free.  If you notice in the middle of
   the word Growth is the word OW  There are some things we will have to
   give up.  There are some people who will turn on us.  Let it happen. 
   What we will receive in their place is far better.

My friends - what we regard here today in the church and in our personal
lives as a problem is really an opportunity - a challenge -
An opportunity to ask what our main thing is -
And a challenge to work towards it.

May God bless us in the meeting of that challenge.  Amen.

Lord God - as we wait upon you now - as we listen for your voice in the
silence of hearts and as we offer our prayers to you - we think of those
people in our lives who have loved us with a generous love -- we think of
those who like Mary - have not counted the cost of what they have given
us; of those who given all of themselves to us as Christ gave himself for
the world; and we thank you for them - and ask you to bless them -- and
for you to make us like them..... Lord hear our prayer

As we go into this week, O God, help us to have a focus - a purpose - that
is beyond that of just getting by; beyond that of just trying to make it
through another week; show us we pray what you would have us do; reveal to
us our own personal and unique ministry --- and help us to do it....  
Lord hear our prayer....

Bless O God those in our midst and those around the world whom we name in
our hearts before you at this time; we especially ask for those who poor
this day; for those who are poor in the basic needs of daily living; and
for those who are poor in love; hear too the prayers we ask for those who
need healing or hope in their lives, those who need justice, and those who
require mercy.  Lord, hear our prayers for these and for all those whom we
and our brothers and sisters now hold before you in their hearts and with
the words of their lips... (BIDDING PRAYER)... Lord Hear Our Prayer.... 

We thank you God for hearing us - and for answering us - We thank you in
the name of Jesus.  Amen


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) & Prayer of

   O Lord our God, our giving is from the love you have bestowed on
   us.  May our love be as generous and as kind as Mary's.  May it be
   so full of beauty and of tenderness that your Name is glorified by
   those who see it.  Bless we pray these gifts that we place on your
   table and bless us in your service.  We ask it in the name of
   Christ Jesus, our crucified redeemer.  Amen

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "We Are Pilgrims" (The Servant Song)            - VU 595

* 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.

Go in peace - love and care for one another in Christ's name;  
- and may the presence of the Lord Jesus 
guide you in the tempting times,
- may the joy of the Lord Jesus 
encourage you in the difficult times,
- and may the power of the Lord Jesus 
strengthen you in the dangerous times,
this both now and forevermore.  Amen

THREE FOLD AMEN & SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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