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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for The First Sunday after Epiphany - Year C
(The Baptism of Our Lord)
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Luke 3:15-17,21-22
"Because I Love You"


READING:  Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Luke 3:15-17,21-22
SERMON :  "Because I Love You"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or01su.y-c 912000

   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 Prayer of Approach and Benediction are adapted from
   material for 'The Baptism of Christ' in "Celebrate God's Presence",
   United Church of Canada, 2000.  The children's story is essentially
   that of Eldon Weisheit, "The Gospel For Kids Series C", Concordia,
   1979, pp 27-28


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                             (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Isaiah 44:2-4)
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  This is what the LORD says, 
   he who made you, who formed you in the womb, 
   and who will help you. 
   "Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, 
   Jeshurun, whom I have chosen."
P  Our God call us by name 
   and brings us the time of promise.
L  "I will pour water on the thirsty land, 
   and streams on the dry ground; 
   I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, 
   and my blessing on your descendants.
   They will spring up like grass in a meadow, 
   like poplar trees by flowing streams."
P  Our God gathers us together and renews our life.
L  This is what the LORD says,
   Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: 
   "I am the first and I am the last; 
   apart from me there is no God."
P  Our God knows us and loves us with a love that cannot die.   
   Blessed be the name of God.


* INTROIT: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" (verse 1)                - VU 232


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Gracious God, Holy One of Israel, glorious is your name.  We lift up our
hands to you.  Our hearts open before you.  You are the fountain of life to
whom we come for refreshing.  You are the cleansing spring to whom we turn
for healing.  You are the well from which we drink and are satisfied.  
Make plain your presence among us.  Give us eyes to see and ears to hear
and tongues to confess your everlasting love and mercy.  Inhabit our prayer
and our praise.  We ask it in the name of the one who does all things well
- Christ Jesus, our friend, our brother, and our Lord.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Breathe On Me, Breathe of God"                            - VU 382


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "One Hand Washes Another"
Theme     Christ washes himself to wash us.
Source    Eldon Weisheit, The Gospel For Kids Series C, Concordia, 1979, 
          pp 27-28
Object    A bag of dirt and ashes, wastebasket, and a basin with
          water, soap, and a towel.

Good morning.  When you have one dirty hand you have a problem.  (Dump
ashes into the wastebasket using your hand).  See this hand is dirty.  I
wouldn't want to eat with it - and you wouldn't want me to touch you with
it.  I wouldn't want to brush my teeth or change my clothes with it.  If it
was time for dinner what do you think my mother would say...  (Go Wash!)
         
So you get some water and soap (Do it)  Now look what happens.  Even though
one hand is clean and only one is dirty, you wash both.  (Do it).  You need
the clean hand to wash the dirty one.  As you use the soap, the dirt from
the dirty hand goes onto the clean hand.  But when you rinse them off, both
are clean (Dry hands). 
            
There is an old saying about this - it is "one hand washes the other".  
Now both are clean.  God has two kinds of children.  He has us, who are
sinners, who do things that hurt others and ourselves.  And he has Jesus,
his holy Son, who is like the clean hand.  God sees the sin of the world
and says - "you must be washed clean".  The clean Son of God joins the
dirty children of God and together they are cleaned - like one hand washing
the other.
            
We hear about our being made clean in the Bible reading for today.  People
are coming to be baptised - like we are baptised.  They wanted their sins
washed away.  But water alone will not take away sin.  So Jesus came to be
baptised too.  He had no sin, but he shared in the sin of the rest of us. 
He let us put our dirt on Him.  Then he died on the cross and rinsed all
the dirt away.
         
Think of your baptism each time you use one hand to wash the other. 
Remember that your baptism is still a part of your life.  Each day you are
made clean again because Jesus still lives with you.  He is still the holy
Son of God - come to wash you clean.


* PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Father in Heaven   thank you for Jesus - and for how he came to
   us - for how he was baptised with us - and for how he was baptised
   for us -- Help us to be pure and holy - just as he was and is - we
   ask it in his name. 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


* HYMN:  "Out Of Deep Unordered Water"                              - VU 453


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 ISAIAH 43:1-7
   (NIV)  But now, this is what the LORD says - he who created you, O
   Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed
   you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass
   through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through
   the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the
   fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 
   For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I
   give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.  Since you
   are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I
   will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your
   life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your
   children from the east and gather you from the west.  I will say to
   the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them
   back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the
   earth - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my
   glory, whom I formed and made."

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 29 (VU 756) 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 LUKE 3:15-17,21-22
   (NIV) The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in
   their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  John answered
   them all, "I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I
   will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He
   will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing
   fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the
   wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable
   fire."

   When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. 
   And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit
   descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from
   heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

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


* HYMN:   "Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness"                            - VU 375


SERMON:  "Because I Love You" (2078, ideal 1700, communion 1100)

   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 that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 
   Amen.

I would like to repeat two phrases from the reading from the Book of the
Prophet Isaiah this morning.  Listen to them.  Listen to what God says to
the people of Israel while they are in exile in Babylon.  Listen to what
God says to his servant Jacob.

   Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you
   are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and
   when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. 
   When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames
   will not set you ablaze.

And a couple of verses later

   Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from
   the east and gather you from the west.  I will say to the north,
   'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my
   sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth 

Fear Not
Do not be Afraid
these are some of the most common words in scripture, 
found over 70 times in the bible. 
   
They are words spoken by Angels and by prophets at the command of God 
to his people, to his servants.

And they are words spoken by Jesus - over and over again - 
words spoken more often by him than by anyone else -
to his disciples and followers - to us.

Why should we not be afraid?

Especially when you consider the charges that can be brought against us?
   the charges that John the Baptist alludes to when he calls the people to
   repent of their sins?
       the charges that the prophets made when they accuse the kings and
       the common people of Israel of idolatry?
          the charges that Jesus himself makes when he speaks of how we
          should not only not sin with our bodies, but how we should also
          keep the law within our hearts and our minds -
the law concerning adultery
   the law concerning murder - 
       the law concerning calling other people fools
          the law concerning loving God with all of our mind, heart, soul,
and strength and our neighbours as ourselves..

We are a sorry lot.  
Not only are our hands dirty and need cleaning
but so are our hearts and minds.

What an unpleasant truth this is.
A truth that no amount of wishful thinking can erase.
A truth that no self-improvement program or new age optimism can eradicate.

We are flawed.  Each one of us.   
Not one of us is without sin.

So why should we not be afraid when God speaks to us? 
- the Holy to the unholy?   
- The giver of the law to the breakers of the law?

Why should we not be afraid 
   - not only because of those things within us, those things that lead us
   to do ill instead of good
   - but because of those things that others would do to us - things
   threaten our very existence?  Things that threaten to destroy our
   families, our community, our nation, much as the Babylonian captivity
   threatened to bring to an end the people of Israel at the time of
   Isaiah?

Why should we not be afraid?

The answer my friend is found in today's reading from the prophet Isaiah,
   and demonstrated to us in the baptism that Jesus received at the hands
   of John,
       that baptism which ends with the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in
       bodily form like a dove and a voice from heaven saying to him: "You
       are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

Look back with me to the words God gave to Isaiah to say,
the words that follow the statement:

   "When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames
   will not set you ablaze."

The text goes on to say:

   For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I
   give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.  Since you
   are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I
   will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your
   life. 

I am the Lord your God, your Saviour.
You are precious and honoured in my sight.
And because I love you....

"Because I love you" -- that's the key to it all.

Because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you,
people in exchange for your life.

Because God loves us - we need not fear.
Because God loves us - he has redeemed us
Because God loves us - he has bought us back from our slavery to sin,
Because God loves us - he has given himself 
- he has given Jesus - in exchange for us

One hand washes the other.

In this case a holy hand,
a holy hand from heaven,
enters into the dust and ashes of our mortal frames 
and washes us
and proclaims us to be clean and that God is pleased by it.

God is pleased with his Son whom he loves as he begins the ministry that
   will cause him to pass the waters of death and to enter into the fires
   of hell.
God is pleased because God loves us and knows that if we are to be washed
   clean that he must come to us and wash us.

I really like this image of one hand washing the other 
- and I really want to commend it to you this day.
It says so much about what the gospel proclaims,
- concerning Jesus and what he has done, and is doing, and will yet do,
so much about what the church proclaims
- concerning how God is with us and for us.

We need not fear the waters for God is with us 
- the rivers will not sweep over us.
We need not fear the fire for God is with us 
- we will not be burned, the flames will not set us ablaze.

Because he loves us, because we are precious and honoured in God's sight,
   he will gather us, as he gathered Israel, from those places where
   judgement and where evil have scattered us to,
   - those places of the heart and soul in which we hide or to which others
   have consigned us.

He is our Redeemer, our Saviour.
We need not be afraid - for he is with us.

How does the Christmas Story begin?

Be not afraid Mary - God has favoured you.
You will conceive and bear a son and you will call him Jesus 
- for he will save his people,
Emmanuel, for God is with us.

That story is meant to be heard by all of us
because God is with us.

Be not afraid Carol
be not afraid Gordon, 
be not afraid Barbara
be not afraid Richard
I have called you by name, you are mine.  
You will not perish in the waters or in the fire

Because I love you Gil,
because I love you Cathy
because I love you Doris
I have given Jesus for you -
   Jesus who descended into the waters of the river and who was drowned,
   Jesus who entered into the fires of hell and preached to the souls there
I have given Jesus for you - 
   and he was, in the end, not swept away by the waters of death
   nor set ablaze by the fires of hell

Be not afraid
because I have come to 
because I have given Jesus for you
because I have lifted him up out of the grave and glorified him.

Sin and Evil do not have the last word.
Be not afraid.

Powerful, wonderful stuff this.  
One hand washes the other 
- because God loves us, 
- because we are precious in his sight.

And what does it mean for us today.

It means it is never too late.

It means that we do not have to carry our sin around with us for all of
eternity.

It means that we can begin afresh - no matter what others may say about us,
no matter what others might do to us,
no matter what we feel about ourselves.

And it means we should approach God - that we should come to God much as
the prodigal son  approached his Father,with humility and with hope:
- the humility to know that we are not worthy
- and the hope to believe that God will, at the very least, treat us as one
of the least of his servants and feed us and watch over us far better than
we can do on our own

Far better, it says in the Eighty-Fourth Psalm, to be a doorkeeper in the
house of God, than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.  Better indeed is
one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere.

The scriptures fit together so well - the old and the new.
And their message is one and the same throughout - return to God.

Repent and return to God for he loves us and does not want us to be
destroyed.  Join yourself to the holy one who has come to cleanse you and
redeem and make you safe.  Allow Christ to baptise you with water and fire
and the fullness of the Spirit.  Live by him and through him as a brother
to him - as a sister to him - for now and for eternity.

You know that Gnosticism and the Gnostic gospels are all the rage these
days and have been since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls some 50
years ago now.

Our modern day gnostics, some parading about as followers of Christ, even
though the Church of Christ rejected the Gnostic Gospels over 1900 years
ago, 

tell us that we do not need the baptism of which I have been speaking
today,
- that we do not need, and never did need, Jesus to undergo the agony of
the cross and the darkness of the grave,
- that no one needed to be given in exchange for us,
- that a saviour is not necessary for our salvation.

They tell us that all that is needed to be made whole is the proper
attitude, the realization that God dwells in all of us, and the wisdom to
heed the still small voice that is found in us and in nature around us.

There is truth to some of the claims of Gnosticism.  

God does dwell within us, 
and a proper attitude is important to have,
but mostly what you hear in Television shows and read in books about
   Gnosticism or study in seminars regarding Spiritual Fulfilment is false
   - or at best, terribly inadequate.

It is not knowledge or a proper attitude that makes us fit for dwelling in
the presence of God forever.

It is not insight or the whispers of the Spirit that dwells within that
makes us holy or pure or beautiful,

Rather it is the active and powerful love of God for each one of us that
saves us.

It is God coming among us as one of us that saves us,
it is the life and the actions of Christ that heals us,
and the sacrifice of Jesus that delivers us from sin and death.

It is a dynamic love that redeems us,
the kind of love a parent has for a child,
the love that says   - I will stand in front of my beloved and shield her
                     from all harm,
the love that says   - I will forgive and give my son another chance 
the love that says   - I will take my child's place - and suffer the injury
                     meant for her
the love that says   - I will defend him against all accusers - even as I
                     chastise him myself, and I will give to her the tools
                     she needs so that she does not offend over and over
                     again.

New age spirituality or  old age Gnosticism - it is all the same, 
it takes the truth and the power out of the story, 
the story of how Jesus was immersed in the waters that would sweep us away,
and how he walked through the fire that would set us ablaze.

   Because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, 
   and people in exchange for your life.  

   Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from
   the east and gather you from the west.  I will say to the north,
   'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' 

   Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth
   --  everyone who is called by my name,  whom I created for my glory,
   whom I formed and made."


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious Lord God, we give you thanks today that there is more to our faith
in you than our belief in you, than our efforts to do those things that you
command and to not do those things that you call sin.  We praise you for
the fact that there is something more to our baptism than mere water and
something more to salvation than simply thinking right thoughts.  We thank
you for the love that you have for us - the love that enters into our
condition - our humanity - and which leads our way safe through those
things that would destroy us.  We praise you for pouring out your Spirit
upon Jesus as he ministered among us - and for granting us the same Spirit
when we turn to him - the Spirit that cleanses and brings us to new birth.  
We thank you for giving him in exchange for us - and for glorifying him for
his obedience and his love.  Lord, you call us now by name - help us to
hear that call.....    Lord hear our prayer...

Loving God, we pray for those who this day are called to pass through the
waters and are afraid, and for those who must go through fire and who worry
that they may be consumed....  Lord hear our prayer...

Merciful God, we pray for those who despair over their sinfulness and the
sinfulness of others, for those who have not found the peace that Christ
grants,  nor the transforming power that he bestows upon his brothers and
sisters.  Let them know that you are with them and that you will help
them....  Lord hear our prayer....

Compassionate God,  we pray for those who do not know themselves - or
knowing themselves - do not know you and your healing and forgiving
love....   Lord, hear our prayer.

God of healing and wholeness - God of justice and vindication - we pray for
those who we have named this day in our time of sharing - and those we name
now in our hearts before you.   Those in need in body, mind, soul, or
spirit.  Those who seek your blessing and those upon whom we desire your
blessing. We especially remember before you now - BIDDING PRAYER ....
Lord Hear Our Prayer....

We pray to you, most loving one, in the name of your most beloved Son
Christ Jesus our Lord, he who is our Saviour, our Brother , and our Friend,
both now and forevermore.  Amen

       
MINUTE FOR MISSION


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

   Loving and Eternal God - we present ourselves and our offerings to
   you this day as a sign of our thanksgiving and an expression of our
   trust in you.  We pray that will bless all that we give to you,
   touch it with your Holy Spirit and use it to accomplish your purpose
   - both in heaven and on earth, now - and forevermore.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "I Feel The Winds of God"                        - VU 625


* 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 the name of Christ 
- and may the waters of your baptism enliven you,
- may the faith of your baptism strengthen you,
- and the community of the baptized support you,
through the One who calls you by name and redeems you, 
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
both now and forevermore.  Amen


SUNG 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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