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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 20 - Proper 15 - Year C
Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 80; Luke 12:49-56
"Fire Upon The Earth"



READING:  Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 80; Luke 12:49-56 
SERMON :  "Fire Upon The Earth"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or20sn 794000

   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: Teilhard de Chardin, quoted in "Random Acts of Kindness",
   page 53.  Prayers Of The People adapted from Nathan Nettleton,
   "Eucharistic Preface - OR20C", nathan@webtime.com.au and John
   Maynard, "Prayers and Litanies" as sent to thePRCL List 1998.

 
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

            
* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP
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  God takes note of our distress.  He hears our cries.
P  For our sake God remembers his covenant.  
   Out of his love the Lord has mercy upon us.
L  Call upon the Lord to save his people and to gather them from the
   nations so that they may give thanks to his most holy name.
P  We will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to
   everlasting.  His love endures forever.


THIS WEEK AT ST. ANDREW'S
- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Special Matters  
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


MUSIC AND SILENT PREPARATION


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Gracious God - we thank you for being with us  - for being one we can
count on through thick and thin.  We call on you today - we call to You to
help us in this hour of worship to be really present to you - to be
specially open to your Spirit - to be ones who enthrone you in praise and
follow you in joyful obedience.  Abide in us Lord as we pray to you. 
Renew us.  Inspire us.  Grant to us the joy, peace, and harmony of Your
Kingdom, and the power to live alive and free; to your everlasting glory. 
Receive our songs and our thanksgivings - we ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Praise Our Maker"                                        - VU 316


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Finishing The Race"
Theme     Perseverance 
Object    Running Shoes
Source    Based in part on the story in "Whole People of God", 1998

Today's epistle reading ends with the words: "let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and
perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross"

That got me to thinking about running races   so I brought along my
running shoes   to remind me about running races.   How many of you like
running?   Have you been in a race???  Many races have prizes for those
who come in first   have you gotten a prize???

There is a true story told about boy named Simon and a very important
race.  Simon lives in Australia, and for most of his young life he had
some difficulty at school.  He found learning difficult and he couldn't
always keep up with the other kids in his class.  But Simon was looking
forward to Sports Day.  He was going to run in the 400 Metre Race, and he
was hoping to would keep up with everyone else - perhaps he might even win
a ribbon.

Simon was very excited.  Sports day was at the Kensington Olympic Sports
Field in Adelaide, South Australia.   Simon was going to run on the same
track on which the State championships were run.

The 7 and 8 years old lined up.  The starting call was given, and the
runners took off.  And then it happened.  A boy named Joshua stumbled. 
Other runners, close to Joshua, stumbled over him.  Most managed to regain
their balance and continue the race.  But Joshua had hurt his knee. 
Simon, who had just started his important race, stopped, helped Joshua to
his feet and waited with Joshua until a grownup came to help.

The field of runners was now 100 or so Metres ahead of Simon.  Someone
called to Simon and encouraged him to keep going, and Simon decided he
would finish the race.  He did it, finishing about 100 metres behind the
last group of runners.   As he ran toward the finishing line, the
spectators cheered and clapped.  Simon, they said was a champion!

Why do you think the people said Simon should be given a winner's ribbon?  
Do you agree?

Tthis morning the Apostle Paul tells us that God will help us to do
difficult things, and encourages us all to run the race of life and not
give up   and he promises that everyone who finishes the race - as Simon
finished his race - doing the best they can do - will win the prize that
Jesus has prepared for them.  So try really hard, don't give up   and know
that even if you come in  last like Simon did   if you, like Simon, don't
give up and remember to help others   you will be a champion.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God - help us to run the race - and to finish it.   Help
   us keep our eyes on Jesus    the one who perfects our faith - that
   we may win the prize - that you give to all - who believe in him. -
   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:  "Jesus, Teacher, Brave and Bold"                         - SFGP 16


A READING FROM HEBREWS 11:29-12:2
   (NIV)  By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land;
   but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. {30} By
   faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around
   them for seven days. {31} By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she
   welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. 

   {32} And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about
   Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, {33}
   who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained
   what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the
   fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness
   was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed
   foreign armies. {35} Women received back their dead, raised to life
   again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they
   might gain a better resurrection. {36} Some faced jeers and flogging,
   while still others were chained and put in prison. {37} They were
   stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.
   They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and
   mistreated-- {38} the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in
   deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. {39}
   These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received
   what had been promised. {40} God had planned something better for us
   so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

   Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
   let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
   entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for
   us. {2} Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our
   faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its
   shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 80 part II (Voices United 794)
      

A READING FROM LUKE 12:49-56
      (NIV)  "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were
   already kindled! {50} But I have a baptism to undergo, and how
   distressed I am until it is completed! {51} Do you think I came to
   bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division. {52} From now on
   there will be five in one family divided against each other, three
   against two and two against three. {53} They will be divided, father
   against son and son against father, mother against daughter and
   daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
   daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." {54} He said to the crowd:
   "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's
   going to rain,' and it does. {55} And when the south wind blows, you
   say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. {56} Hypocrites! You know how
   to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that
   you don't know how to interpret this present time?

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

* HYMN:   "Give To The Wind Your Fears"                            - VU 636
                 

SERMON:  "Fire Upon The Earth" 

   Lord God,  may we love you in all things and above all things.  As
   we listen for Your word today through the Holy Scriptures and in
   the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts, may we
   reach the Joy You have prepared for us beyond all our imagining and
   come closer to thee in our understanding and in our actions when we
   rise to leave this place of worship.  We ask this through our Lord
   Jesus Christ, Your Son.  AMEN.

What a teaching we have been given in today's gospel reading!

Just Listen - again   listen and ponder what it means
what it means for the world - and what it means for you.

       "I have come to bring fire on the earth, 
       and how I wish it were already kindled!

       But I have a baptism to undergo, 
       and how distressed I am until it is completed! 

          Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  
       No, I tell you, but division.  From now on there 
       will be five in one family divided against each other, 
       three against two and two against three.  
       They will be divided, father against son and son against father,
       mother against daughter and daughter against mother, 
       mother-in-law against daughter-in-law 
       and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." 

       "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say
       'It's going to rain,' and it does.  
       And when the south wind blows, you say, 
       'It's going to be hot,' and it is.  

       Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance 
       of the earth and the sky.  How is it that you don't know 
       how to interpret this present time?

Words spoken my friends in hard times about harder times to come.

Times when to speak the name of Christ -
   would be judged as either insanity or treason
times when to live by his way
   would be to invite criticism, scorn, anger, pity, and perhaps death.
times when families would be divided among themselves,
   by the fire in their midst.
   
And are we exempt from these words in our times?

Perhaps.  

Perhaps the that kind of thing is not for us.

Perhaps the time of fire is passing us by.
   The fire that Jesus wishes were already kindled.
   The fire that he said he came to bring.

There is a conversation that has gone on all week on the Internet amongst
several hundred preachers, a conversation occasioned by the gospel lesson
that I have read to you twice this morning, a conversation about the wrath
of God.

It seems the idea of fire is associated in many minds with something that
is negative, that it is associated with death and destruction, especially
if this fire is from God, the God who has said on more than one occasion
that "his wrath goes forth like fire", and "that his anger burns like
fire".

And thinking of the end of the age, 
   as Jesus surely was as he spoke the words we have heard,
well thinking of the end of the age
   and of the time of judgement,
just seems to make some preachers - and I think some congregations, 
   just plain crazy -  crazy about the idea of wrath.

God would never do anything nasty some of these say, God is not wrathful,
but if he were - well it is just too nasty to think about in any case 
   so we shall never speak of times of judgement 
   - never speak of pain and of death caused on account of God's plan for
the world, for these things are upsetting to us.  

Others seem to think that God being really nasty 
- that God being wrathful 
- God being judgmental, 
is a good thing, 
and perhaps rub their hands in glee at the thought of all that.

Indeed some make fortunes prophesying doom over televison and speaking of
eternal life as if it were some kind of  heavenly insurance policy that
can be purchased by sending them donations.  They babble on as if there is
no mystery as to how God is going to wrap this story up,
- pointing fingers at the signs of time and declaring their full meaning,
and the exact sequence of things to come
- even though Jesus himself said that no man, not even the Son, knew the
time, but only the Father.

And so, often, we who listen to those who speak of the fire that Jesus
spoke about as the being mainly about the wrath of God are misguided by
what they hear,
   - misguided to the left, to mindless hope, with no sense of passion or
   purity or purpose, no sense of how darkness CANNOT exist in the light
   and how light drives out darkness;
   - or to the right, to stern and unloving righteousness, to judgments
   about others that may or may not be warranted, and which in any case
   are God's alone to make.....

And yet - and yet Jesus said:

   "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were
   already kindled!  

   "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but
   division"

   "You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. 
   How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?"

Fire my friends, can be good or it can be bad.
But good or bad,
fire cannot be ignored.

It was fire that Moses saw in a bush
   and fire which led the people by night through the wilderness
It was fire that touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah has he was called
to proclaim God to Israel
   and fire that fell upon and consumed the Alter of Baal when Elijah
   prayed.

"Is not my word like fire", says the LORD, 
"and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?"

Is it not fire that descends upon the heads of the apostles and of all the
believers gathered in the upper room?

Yes fire - can mean many things - it can do many things.

We who are afflicted with forest fires this summer should know this,
   we who live with the forest industry and work with it each day,
       we who live in this wondrous environment and see all the life that
is in it.

Homes, yes, homes are destroyed, and this should be prevented if at all
possible; labour should be expended to preserve that which can be
preserved through our care, BUT - without fire the lodgepole pine does not
effectively reproduce, without fire the undergrowth chocks out new
seedlings, without fire the forest is not renewed.

What is that they figure   the fire cycle?  Every fifty years there is a
big one?  One big enough to regenerate vast regions of old forest?  One
significant enough to do all that needs to be done to renew the earth upon
which it burns?

Fire - can cook our food - or burn it beyond recognition
Fire - can warm us   or destroy us -
fire can mean many things,
it can do many things,
but think on it - fire cannot be ignored.

   "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were
   already kindled!  But I have a baptism to undergo, and how
   distressed I am until it is completed!"

Our Lord wanted fire to come upon the earth,
   and some see that as a bad thing,
       as an unkind thing,
as words that should be understood as coming from a man facing death very
soon, and who was therefore somewhat fixated on the whole question of
judgement:
   - the whole question of making choices,
   - the whole question of discerning one thing from another,
   - of dividing good from bad,
   - the eternal from the temporal.

And I say - how is that bad?  
That a man about to die should think on eternally important things?

How is it bad this fire that can do so much good, this fire that Jesus
yearns for to be kindled?

Would that there were fire in all of our hearts.
- Fire to burn off the dross
- Fire to bring out the purity of the gold and silver within us -
spiritual wealth beyond price -
- Fire to inflame people to care and to bless one another with all the
gifts of faith
   in the way fire purified the lips of Isaiah
   in the way fire consumed the alter of the false gods 
   in the way fire led the people through the darkness, through the
wilderness.

We need fire.
And Jesus came to bring it.
Fire to inflame the heart with the love of God
and with love for all that he has made,
for all whom he has made.

And fire has indeed come.  And is coming again.
But this coming of fire is not easy.
Fire never is.  Fire cannot be ignored.

Do you not know the seasons of God - you who know the seasons of this
world?  Do you not know your devotion, your faith, is mocked by many in
this world?  And undoubted even by members of your own family?

Or do you try to forget that there is a difference between those who live
in the light and those who do not?  That the darkness really cannot
comprehend the light?

My own father can't understand where he went wrong - though he would never
quite put it that way?  But gee - I thought Richard would become a history
professor long before he thought he would be a minister of the gospel.

My brothers - can't really understand this Christian stuff -
they thought I was reasonably intelligent,
and perhaps they have finally decided that I really still am so,
but they clearly wonder at my sanity.

Other people experience far worse than I.  Far far worse.
People are killed, people are put into prison, 
people are persecuted in this day, in this world,
because they believe in the name of Jesus.

To them, the words spoken "brother" or "sister" are secret code words that
identify them to fellow believers, and which can also be used to identify
them to the hostile authorities; code words that speak of a relationship
that is beyond that which mere semen and eggs can create.

But - of course - many people do not experience these signs - not even a
little bit   and that makes me wonder:

Is it because all around them the environment is filled with believers
   with fire in them as well, and so all their relationships are
   harmonious and no one ever questions them about their faith?  Is it
   because the kingdom has already come in its fullness?
Or is it because the fire is in fact lacking in them and in those all
   around them - so there is no passion, there is no vitality, there is
   no life? 

       "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it
       were already kindled!""

It is not about judgement.  
It is not about wrath  
- as much as it is about mercy.
It is about God dividing the day from the night, 
   light from darkness,
   - so that we may all see.
It is about love overcoming hatred
	life overcoming death 
   - so that we might be united forever with all that lives -
It is about laughter instead of sorrow,
   about wholeness instead of division.

God you see, just might have a very positive means of destroying "the
world" by fire.

He might use forces that, while reacted to with great opposition, will
actually be healing.  He might use forces that, while leading to division
amongst people, will actually be uniting.

Earlier in this century the theologian Teilhard de Chardin, wrote:
 
   "Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides
   and gravity we shall harness the energies of love.  Then for the
   second time in the history of the world man will have discovered
   fire."  

The energy of love.
An energy that is like fire - able to lead us in the darkness.
An energy that is like light - which permits us to see.
An energy that is like water - which refreshes and makes new
An energy that is like air - that allows us to live
An energy that is like earth - upon which the kingdom of God will come.

The division is temporary, the peace even now in its midst is eternal;
   and our prayer as those who walk through the wilderness with only the
   fire to lead us, our prayer ought to be that all those who are in
   darkness may be 
lit by the fire that we see
warmed by the fire that warms us,
refined by the fire that refines us,
and be led to that place where they will call us 
- even as we now on this day call them -
brother and sister 

What does it mean this hard teaching of Jesus?  And how should it affect
our understanding of him and our daily walk with him?

Your heart has the answer.
God has put it there.

   Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your
   mind, and with all your strength; and love your neighbour as
   yourself.

All your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.

All.

For the one who is all in all.
Blessed be the one, the all, day by day.  Amen


* HYMN:  "When Pain Of The World Surrounds Us"                     - VU 598


PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION & THE LORD'S PRAYER
We invoke your name with thanks and praise, O God, for though we were a
wasteland you have cherished us and given us life again.  Even when you
people returned bloodshed instead of justice, and torment instead of
righteousness, still, in each generation, you made fruitful the lives of a
faithful few.  They were imprisoned, persecuted, tormented, destitute -
the world was not worthy of them, but you gathered them to yourself that
they might be made perfect, and us with them.  We thank you.   Lord, hear
our prayer...

O God, in Christ Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, before
whom the division of righteousness and unrighteousness becomes plain for
all to see, you have once again restored us to life and given us strength
for the race before us until we fall in wonder before his throne at your
right hand.  We thank you.   Lord, hear our prayer....

O God, truly you are to be thanked for all your mercies and your
judgements.   Lord, you know that we need the fire that you send upon the
earth - the fire of love - to complete us each day.  Our prayer today is
that your love might come upon us with such power that we might accomplish
that which you dream of us doing, that we might be shining citizens of
your Kingdom and bright witnesses to your healing power and compassionate
love as we complete our pilgrimage in this world.  Come and assist us. 
Lord hear our prayer...

O God, be present with and touch with your healing hand and your tender
mercy those who have deep and special need for your love this day.  We
remember before you now those named in our sharing time - and those upon
our hearts: BIDDING PRAYER....  Lord, hear our prayer...

We ask these things through Christ Jesus - who first taught us to pray to
you as one family.  Amen


* 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

   Gracious God, accept these gifts -  for what they are -- a thank
   offering for you.  May all that we receive and offer to you be used
   through your Church for the work of Your Kingdom and the purpose of
   Your Glory, through Christ our Lord.  AMEN.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "We Are Called To Follow Jesus"                - SFGP 18


   * 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
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ Jesus,   
- And may the Lord of Fire bless you and keep you; 
- May the Lord of Energy make His face to shine upon you 
    and be gracious to you; 
- And may the Lord of Love lift up His countenance upon you, 
    and give you an abundant and rewarding life;
this both now and for ever. Amen.


CHORAL 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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