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Sermon and Liturgy for The Third Sunday after Epiphany - Year C
Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4:14-21
"Rejoicing In The Word of God"

READING:  Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4:14-21
SERMON :  "Rejoicing In The Word of God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or03sn.y-c 764000

   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: Some of the sermon material is from sermons for this
   Sunday by Pastor Wes Jenks, Ordinary 3c-98; "What Scroll Do You
   Unroll" and by Robert Flaherty, Roseburg First United Methodist
   Church, 1998.  The children's time is based upon a story found by
   Paul Woodhouse (, also 1998.

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Psalm 19:7-11)
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 law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
P  The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple.
L  The ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.  
P  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.  
   They are sweeter than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
L  By them is your servant warned.
P  In keeping them there is great reward.

INTROIT: "What Does The Lord Require of You"                       - VU 701

Lord God - as we gather today we ask that you would develop in us an
immeasurable urge towards you, an affection that is unbounded, a longing
that is unrestrained, and a fervour that throws discretion to the winds. 
Grant to us the same Spirit that was upon Jesus, the Spirit of mercy and
of compassion, the Spirit of truth and of justice, the Spirit of power and
of love.  Lead us at this time by your most Holy Word - put it in our
hearts and upon our lips - let it give light to our minds and shine
through all that we do - to your everlasting praise and glory - both now
and forevermore.  Amen

* HYMN  "God, Whose Almighty Word"                                 - VU 313

CHILDREN'S TIME: "Critter Tales"
Theme     "Celebrating Our Special Gifts"
Source    Paul D. Woodhouse,, 1998.  Paul took this
          from a very old Springfield, Oregon, Public Schools Newsletter
Object    None, story telling

Good morning -- This morning's bible reading about the different gifts or
parts of the body that God has made reminded me of a story that is told
about a duck, a rabbit, a  squirrel, and an eagle.  They decided to
organize a school.  They decided to have classes in climbing, swimming,
and  flying.  To make it easier to keep track of everybody, all the
animals took all the subjects. 

The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor
but he only  made passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. 
Since he was slow in running, he had to drop swimming and stay after
school to practice running.   Pretty soon his webbed feet were badly worn,
so that he was only average in swimming.  But average was quite
acceptable, so nobody worried about that - except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a
nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in
swimming and soon was even slower than the squirrel.  In flying he was a
total disaster - he couldn't get more than two feet above the ground - so
they gave him a failing grade and told him over and over again that he
would just have to try harder.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he was constantly frustrated
in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up
instead of from the treetop down.  He developed Charlie Horses from
overexertion, and so only got a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle was a problem child.  He was severely disciplined for being a
non-conformist.  In climbing classes he beat all the others to the top of
the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there.  He did the same
thing in running class -  and he absolutely refused to swim - instead he
insisted on diving at the water and just touching it with his claws.  So
finally they expelled him from the school.

Everyone was very sad at the school.  And no one knew what they could do
to make things better?  Do you have any ideas???   (each person use their
own gift   each person value the others for their gift - get the duck to
do more swimming and be best at it   get the eagle to do the flying   the
squirrel to do climbing - and the rabbit to do running).

So with us  -each person has something special to offer -- and we should
value them and their gift and not expect them to be just like us - who
have different abilities and gifts.  

* HYMN:  "Many Are The Lightbeams"                                 - VU 588

   Let us Pray.... Loving God - We thank for the special abilities -
   that you give to each of us - Help us to value our differences -
   and not to expect everyone - to be the same - Help us do what we
   can - and to let others do what they can - We ask it in Jesus' 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

- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Joys and Concerns


   (NIV)  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and
   though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with
   Christ. {13} For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one
   body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the
   one Spirit to drink. {14} Now the body is not made up of one part but
   of many. {15} If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do
   not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part
   of the body. {16} And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye,
   I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be
   part of the body. {17} If the whole body were an eye, where would the
   sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the
   sense of smell be? {18} But in fact God has arranged the parts in the
   body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. {19} If they
   were all one part, where would the body be? {20} As it is, there are
   many parts, but one body. {21} The eye cannot say to the hand, "I
   don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need
   you!" {22} On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be
   weaker are indispensable, {23} and the parts that we think are less
   honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are
   unpresentable are treated with special modesty, {24} while our
   presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the
   members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that
   lacked it, {25} so that there should be no division in the body, but
   that its parts should have equal concern for each other. {26} If one
   part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured,
   every part rejoices with it. {27} Now you are the body of Christ, and
   each one of you is a part of it. {28} And in the church God has
   appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then
   workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to
   help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in
   different kinds of tongues. {29} Are all apostles? Are all prophets?
   Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? {30} Do all have gifts of
   healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? {31} But eagerly
   desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent

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

* HYMN:  "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"                        - VU 326

   (NIV)  all the people assembled as one man in the square before the
   Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law
   of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. {2} So on the first
   day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the
   assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to
   understand. {3} He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced
   the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and
   others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively
   to the Book of the Law.

   Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was
   standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. {6}
   Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their
   hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshipped
   the LORD with their faces to the ground.

   They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving
   the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
   {9} Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the
   Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is
   sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people
   had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. {10}
   Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send
   some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our
   Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

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

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 19 (Voices United 740 and Sung Refrain)

   (NIV)  Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news
   about him spread through the whole countryside. {15} He taught in
   their synagogues, and everyone praised him. {16} He went to Nazareth,
   where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the
   synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. {17} The scroll
   of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the
   place where it is written: {18} "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has
   sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight
   for the blind, to release the oppressed, {19} to proclaim the year of
   the Lord's favor." {20} Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to
   the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were
   fastened on him, {21} and he began by saying to them, "Today this
   scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

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

* HYMN:  "O Christ, The Word Incarnate"                            - VU 499

SERMON: "Rejoicing In The Word of God"

   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.

Pastors have long been the target of jokes, particularly those dealing
with the length of sermons.
   There's the one about the preacher who was ending his sermon and
   apologized the congregation for speaking too long, "I don't have a
   watch with me", he said.  Somebody from the back shouted out, "Do
   you have a calendar?"  

In today's story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes to the opposite
extreme and preaches what could be the shortest sermon in history.  He
goes to the synagogue in Nazareth where he had been brought up, he is
given the Scroll of Isaiah by synagogue officer, and he reads from Isaiah

   "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to
   bring the Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to announce
   release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; to
   set at liberty those who have been oppressed; and to proclaim the
   year of the Lord's favour." 

   Then he sits down.  When a rabbi sat down, it didn't mean they were
   finished.   That's the position from which they taught or preached. 
   The Gospels contain several incidents where Jesus sat to teach the

And Jesus sat down and said: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in
your hearing". 

That's it.  That, my friends is a very short sermon. 

Our Old Testament reading this morning portrays a very different kind of
situation - on a very special day in the life of the people of Israel. 
The people, who have recently returned to the Promised Land after spending
five decades in Exile in Babylon, are gathered together in the square next
to the Water Gate in Jerusalem - men, women, and children - and there the
Law of Moses is read to them - and explained to them - from early in the
morning till mid-day - for close to six hours!

It bet it makes some of you squirm just to think about it!

Yet - that is not the reaction of the people to this incredibly long
proclamation of God's Word..  

Far from it.  In fact the people are completely wrapped up in it.  They
cry.  They holler Amen.  They raise their hands to heaven.  They fall down
on the ground and bow their heads low and pray.  In short they are
completely involved with the word that they hear.  It touches them deeply. 

When was the last time you were moved by the Word of God!  That it caused
you to cry, or to fall upon your knees, or to lift up your hands in
thanksgiving, or to say with enthusiasm and with joy - Amen! Amen! - So be
it Lord!  So be it!

Perhaps we have become too familiar with the scriptures -
or perhaps we are not familiar enough with them  
or perhaps we have simply lost our hunger 
    - our sense of our need for something more - for something divine, 
    for someone to help us make sense of it all

It really is easy to lose our sense of wonder - our thirst for knowledge.

Do you ever ask yourself what happens to our children when they grow
older?  Do you remember the time when your son or your daughter's
favourite word was "Why:" 

     "Daddy, why do daddies make little girls go to bed at bed time?" 
     "Mommy, why does it thunder?"  "Papa -- what makes the sky
     blue?"  "Mamma - where do babies come from?"

     Often times attempts to answer these questions simply lead to
     more questions. "Daddy, why are green beans green?"  "Because
     then they wouldn't be green beans." "Why would they not be green
     beans?"  "Because they would be blue or something. "Why would
     they be blue?" And so on...

     Of course sometimes this is just a game in seeing how long dad
     will keep answering questions until he loses patience.  But it
     grows out of a very real interest and wonder. Why is the world
     the way it is?  A growing mind starves for understanding.  But a
     four year old's understanding is so lacking that the only
     question that comes forth is an all encompassing "why."

What ever happens to that thirst for knowledge?  Is that as they get older
they just accept that things are the way they are?  Do impatient teachers
and parents stomp out the fire of curiosity. Or do they, do we - for we
were all once like our children, just kind of get used to things and stop

Is that what happens to us too when it comes to understanding the things
of God?  When it comes to exploring what it means to be "chosen by God"?
When it comes to knowing what the Word of God has to say for our lives?
Is it that we just get used to it?  

Or are we afraid that there is no point asking - that the answer is beyond
us, and beyond the ability of anyone to explain it to us?

Or worse - are we afraid that we might well understand the answer -
and that the answer will call us to make changes in our lives that we do
not want to make?

For the people of Israel - the explanation of their reaction to Ezra's
Reading of The Word is found in their lack of familiarity with it 
     and in the awesome sense that they had when they heard it proclaimed
     for the first time in many years of just how much they had strayed
     from God's path, and just how much goodness from God's hands that
     they had missed for so many years.

The folk of Israel twenty-five hundred years ago were a lot like us  
     they believed in God
     they believed in living a good life
but they didn't really pay heed to what God wanted of them - to what was
said in the scriptures.  They didn't pay a lot of attention to what God
wanted of them - or to the promises that God made to them - and how it was
they could claim those promises for themselves and for their nation.

Before the time of exile    there was the business to look after - the
relatives to entertain - a living to be sought - and of course some time
to relax.  The Sabbath worship was enough for some - for the rest - the
annual trips to the temple during Passover or for Yon Kipper was enough -
kind of like how it is today for so many Christians with Sunday Worship --
or Easter Communion and Christmas Candlelight Services.

And during the time of exile   well, when you are a slave - well, you can
understand how easy it is to not have time to listen to the old stories -
to pray hard each day - and to meditate on what God has said and down - as
recorded in the ancient scrolls or recited by the priests and teachers. 
It is enough to simply believe in God - isn't it????  You don't really
need to pay attention to what he says do you???

I don't know how you answer those two questions for yourselves... but it
seems to me that if you have heard that you - because of the sheer love of
a friend or relative - have inherited a million dollars - and you refuse
to read his or her Will and find out how to claim that money   what bank
to go to - what passwords to enter in the machine  - that you might be
considered a bit foolish. 

Whatever the score may be for you - When the people of Israel return from
exile and are finally are gathered to hear the Word of God   a Word that
had finally been put together in the very form in which we have it today  
as the first five books of the bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy - it was a great eye opener to them.

In listening to it, they knew the goodness of God - from the story of
Creation to the Exodus and they knew the sin of their ancestors - from
Adam and Eve to the story of the Golden Calf.

They heard the laws God had given them for their own conduct so that he
might bless them and they realized just how far they were away from that
law and just why it was they had suffered so much - and why their land and
their lives were still so poor
    and they wept - in sorrow - in grief - for what they done wrong,
    for how they had offended God
    and for what they had missed because of it.

Do you know what God has to say about how you are living right now?
About how our country is living?

Do you know what God has to say about working all the time and about the
importance of worship?  About how why we should pray for our politicians
every day  - even the ones we do not like? 

Do you know what God says about gossip - about how it is as bad as
murdering someone?  Or what God has to say about your outbursts of anger,
your  impatience and your worry and about how you can overcome them?

Do you know that to forgive means to forget?  
     And that charging interest on loans has been considered immoral for
     thousands of years; 
          and that the Holy Book never ever says in any of it's thousands
          of pages that "God helps those who help themselves" - but rather
          - if the truth be told it says, in the interpretation of just
          about every page - that God really and truly only helps those
          who help others?

     "Those who seek to save their lives - will loose them... but
     those who would loose their lives for my sake and the sake of
     the gospel, they will save them"

     "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's
     own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of
     him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light"

The Word of God is exciting my friends -
but it can be just a little bit frightening as well,
     frightening when you realize just how much it has to say about how we
     are living, and just how far away we are from what God wants of us.

And so the people of Israel wept when they heard the word for the first
     time in many years  
when for the first time in a long time they really listened to what
     God had to say and realized that they were not the people that they
     thought they were, and that they were farther from God than they had
     ever thought themselves to be.

They mourned who they were - who they had become - they mourned and they
wept and they prayed to God for help. 

And Ezra - and the officials with him - Nehemiah the Governor of the Land,
and the rest of the priests, see them weeping and say to them something
that we all need to hear once we have encountered the truth of God and
have discovered who we really are and what we have allowed ourselves to
become.  They say:

     "This day is Holy to the Lord your God - this time is special to
     God - do not mourn or weep.  Go your way, celebrate - eat the
     best food and the drink the best wine and share it with those
     who have nothing to eat or drink - for this day is Holy to our
     Lord.  Do not be grieved - do not sorrow - for the Joy of the
     Lord is your strength."

And indeed it is; today is an important day, a holy day to our God 
- for those of you who really hear the Word of God
- for those of you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for wholeness
- for salvation,

Right now is a Holy Time!  For the word of God which tells us just how far
     away from God we are, 
that word which even now is in your ears - and which you can hold in your
     hands if you chose
that word - also tells us that God is acting and will act to deliver us
     should we allow him to do so.  Praise God!

My friends, the sermon that Jesus gave in the temple in reaction to the
word of God as it is found in the prophet Isaiah - is the same word that
Ezra and Nehemiah and all who understand the word of God aright through
the ages have proclaimed  

     Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!

     Today is the day of salvation,
     Today is the time of God's favour  
     of God's forgiveness, of God's jubilee 
     - that time when debt is forgiven and the land restored
     - when families are brought back together and slaves are set free
     - when the blind have their sight restored - and the lame are made to

Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Listen to it...
Listen with more than your ears
Listen with your hunger
Listen with your needs
Listen with your hope
Listen with a friend who can help explain what you do grasp
Listen with Spirit that God will give you for that purpose 
- should you ask him for it...

The Word, my friends, most surely does convict us of our sin
but that same word proclaims the saving love of God  
and the more that we understand that love  and rejoice in that love and
allow ourselves to be filled with joy by it   the stronger and more
healthy we will become.

Rejoice in the Word - Rejoice in God -
he is here to save you, not condemn you,
he is here to make you whole, not to strike you down,
he is here to open the door to eternal life to you,
not to send you to hell.

For the word is that God so loves you - that he sent his only begotten Son
to you and to the world
so that if you come to believe in him, to rejoice in him, to trust in him,
to follow him, you might not perish.

The joy of the Lord is our strength 
- the word of the Lord is our guide. 
Rejoice in the word - read the word 
- and bless the name of the Lord - day by day.  Amen

* HYMN:  "Jesus Loves Me"                                          - VU 365

Eternal God - we thank you for the Word you give to us for our guidance -
For the Word that shows us how to live in a way that is pleasing to you
and which sets free your liberating and healing power in our midst.  We
thank you for all who proclaim that Word faithfully and help us to
understand what is your Will.  Most of all Lord, we thank you for the
living Word - the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us - full of
grace and truth.  We thank you for sending unto us Christ Jesus to be our
Saviour - to be the one who not only proclaims the time of your favour -
but one who bestows it as well.  We hallow and we praise your most
precious name.... Lord hear our prayer...

Father, we have shown to one another a sign of peace this day   we have
welcomed strangers and  greeted old friends with your love.  We would now
extend your blessings to others through our prayer for them - and in so
doing we would ask that your name be blessed by what we seek of you - both
in its intention and in its fulfilment.  Hear our prayer for those we now
hold before you - BIDDING PRAYER

This, O Lord, is the year of your favour.  Grant that we may hear obey
your will in all things and do the works that you have gifted us to do -
that all the world may see that you are present for us and for them --
bring we pray the fullness of your kingdom to pass upon this earth - even
as you taught us tor pray for it through Jesus, our Lord, our brother, and
our friend.  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

     God of all wonder - God of all beauty - God of all goodness -
     you who govern everything by your wisdom and bless it with your
     love - receive our offerings and transform them by the power of
     your Spirit - that they and we may worthily accomplish your
     purpose and bring everlasting praise to your name.  Amen.

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Arise, Your Light Has Come"                     - VU 79

* 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 God's Spirit dwell richly within you to guide and lead you and
make you wise
- may God's Living Word bring you the perfect freedom and wholeness
promised by all the prophets
- and may God's love fill your cup to overflowing -
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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