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Two Sermons for Ordinary 23 -Proper 18 - Year C
Luke 14:25-43; Philemon 1-21
"Not Able To Finish" - by Ross Bartlett
"Real World, Real Faith" - by Dave Jagger



READING:  Luke 14:25-43; Philemon 1-21 
SERMON :  Two Sermons

Rev. Ross Bartlett - Not Able To Finish
Rev. David Jagger - Real World, Real Faith
C-or23-twosermons.y-c 

   This week we present two sermons for the "Upcoming Sunday" from 
   our summer time guest preachers from the United Church of Canada, 
   the Rev. Ross Bartlett and the Rev. Dave Jagger.  The former deals 
   with Luke 14:25-43 and the latter with Philemon 1-21. 


READING:  Luke 14:25-33
SERMON :  "Not Able To Finish" 
By     :  Rev. Ross Bartlett

  The city of Edinburgh, Scotland experienced some of its
greatest days in the 1700s.  In those years Scottish culture was
reputed to be the finest in Europe, the crown jewel of human
achievment.  Scots scholars stood at the forefront of most fields
of human research and knowledge.  Edinburgh was known as "the
Ahtens of the North".  A flowering of wisdom and culture which
seemed, to those who lived in that days, to be comparable to the
greatest days of ancient Greece.  

  If you stand in front of Edinburgh's castle today a great deal
of history is laid out at your feet.  Eventually your eyes come
to rest on a small hill, off from the centre of town, on which
stand the remains of a curious looking building.  It was intended
to be a symbol of the city's greatness.  It was modelled on the
ancient buildings of Greece.  It was meant to be a great
structure of marble and pillars.  It stands today, unused and
unfinished.  It was meant to be a symbol of Edinburgh's greatness
but, due to lack of funds, it was never finished.  Today it is
known as "Edinburgh's Disgrace" - a mockery of the greatness it
sought to convey.  

  Those who first heard Jesus tell the parable contained in our
Gospel lesson knew all about such buildings.  Herod, the ruler of
Palestine, was dedicated to preserving his memory for the rest of
humanity and he was convinced that his glory was best conveyed by
grand palaces and huge buildings.  Only, he very rarely stuck at
a project.  Palestine was soon dotted with the results of his
passion for towers and palaces.  Empty and unused buildings, many
of them unfinished stood on many sites, testimony to Herod's lack
of funds or loss of interest.  We too are familiar with such
buildings.  Apartments or factories or office towers, started in
the first flush of excitment and halted when the money ran short. 
Now they stand, abandoned and empty, half-finished walls gazing
like sightless eyes across the land, a place for children to be
warned about and generally dismissed as an eye-sore. 

  This may seem a strange thing for Jesus to say.  Here he is,
he's at the height of his popularity.  People were flocking from
all over to hear the charismatic young preacher from Nazareth. 
Many of them wanted to sign up, to jump on the bandwagon. 
Everyone likes to grab an ascending star.  Think of the
popularity of the ecological movement.  After decades of being
warned about our mistreatment of this beautiful, fragile earth,
once people wake up to the message they're crowding to the front. 
Every politician wants to be considered a "green politician". 
Manufacturers outdo one another with the environmentally-friendly
claims of their products.  Everyone likes to be part of something
popular.

  But you don't have to credit Jesus with any special powers of
foreknowledge to be able to see what's coming.  He knows that his
movement won't just waltz into Jerusalem and be handed the keys
to the kingdom.  There's formidable opposition to be faced.  So
he uses the picture of the tower.  An image familiar to his
hearers just as it was familiar to those who watched the
construction of Edinburgh's Disgrace grind to a halt, just as it
is familiar to those of us who live in an era of uncompleted
office towers and parking garages that just don't seem to get
built.

  Initially the warning seems like purest common sense.  Who
could be so foolish, we ask ourselves, as to miscalculate the
cost of a building and wind up in that sort of position?  But
think about it.  I wonder how many homes here have garages or
basements or closets with collections of cobweb-covered hobby
equipment.  The remains of someone who may have started out
without counting the cost.  How many bookshelves with books of
diets that were going to change our lives?  How many memories of
exercise programs undertaken with great enthusiasm and then as
quickly abandoned?  Oh we know about not counting the cost.

  Of course, the cost Jesus has in mind is quite particular.  On
the one hand he's saying, if we're going to take him seriously
it's going to make a difference in every part of our lives.  It
will force us to think again about our relationships or morals;
our business practices or partners; our language or habits; the
jokes we tell; the way we vote.  A Christianity which neatly
confirms all our prejudices and excuses all our weaknesses is
very popular - like dental surgery without pain; like losing
weight without diet or exercise; like making a million without
ever working or taking a risk - but it's as unreal as any of
those.  So Jesus is warning those who choose to follow him about
the difficulties truly following him entails.

  So that's one warning - a warning about a cheap and easy and
ultimately false faith.  But there's another message here too. 
That message is about the need to count the cost.  Notice please
that the message is not "you should avoid all risks".  There's
nothing easier than coming up with reasons why something,
anything, will not work.  Some people make it their life's
occupation to tear down other people's ideas.  That's not Jesus'
point.  Rather he wants us to look at what we must do and what we
want to do and think carefully about it.

  In our life as a church, in our lives as individuals, choices
need to be made.  Sometimes we duck those choices.  As we begin
our life together I hope we can be very clear about a couple of
things.  If this is to be the church that Christ calls it to be,
then it will require the gifts and skills of us all.  That's the
only way.  So it is perfectly legitimate for the church to make
requests of each of us.  No one is immune from being asked to
play a part.  The church, without apology, must seek to use all
of the gifts and talents given by God to a particular people in a
particular place.

  But - and this is where we start talking about counting the
cost - if it's legitimate for the church to make requests of you,
it is just as legitimate, after you have carefully and
prayerfully considered the request to say "no".  The two walk
hand in hand.  It cuts both ways.  The church can ask and you
must decide.  But in your deciding, if it's to be faithful
deciding, a couple of factors enter in.  

  Mature Christian living involves counting the cost.  We have to
count the cost to ourselves.  I shudder to think of the number of
burned-out Christians there are who have drifted away from every
congregation, the number of tasks which were only partially
completed because we didn't know how to say "no" - or listen when
someone else said it.  We also need to calculate the cost to
others, the failed hopes and the betrayed dreams that result from
failing to count the cost, getting involved and failing to carry
through.  So part of counting the cost involves recognizing when
we're stretched too far.  When you get to the point that your
spouse and kids are calling your secretary at work to make
appointments to see you - you're in too deep.  You may well be
neglecting the primary ministry God has given you in your own
family.

  But the other side of responsibility is our call as Christians
to act.  Jesus is very clear, "no one can be mine unless they
take up their cross."  That sounds pretty radical.  How can we
possibly reconcile counting the cost with carrying a cross?  The
answer seems to lie in deciding which cross or crosses we will
carry and carrying those crosses to the best of our ability.  It
also involves recognizing that faithful living involves growing
and stretching and that can sometimes be painful.  Fear is a bad
reason for refusing a task; inexperience is just as bad; laziness
or apathy as reasons are unworthy of those who call themselves by
the name of Christ.  You won't find a lot of encouragement in the
gospels for Christian couch potatoes.

  Mature Christian life involves taking ownership for our
decisions.  Part of our prayerful reflection involves considering
where our talents best lie.  I mean, you'll soon discover that
you wouldn't ask me to be the church bookkeeper, and I'd be doing
you a great disservice if I accepted such a role.  It would be
plum suicidal for all of us involved.  However, there are
probably people whose gifts and skills lie in that direction and
there are other areas of the church's life where I might be of
some small use.  So it is with you.

  Taking ownership of our decisions as a church means that, if we
can't find someone to undertake a position a job might not get
done.  We may find that we don't miss it. On the other hand we
may feel the loss terribly and then all of us - each one of us -
has to take responsibility for that decision.

  May I be very specific for a moment? We have a problem now in a
lack of Sunday School teachers - especially men.  After countless
hours of trying to recruit teachers we have come to the
conclusion that, unless volunteers come forward, certain Sunday
School classes will be spending a lot of time here in worship
rather than in Sunday School.  You figure out the cost of that.

  So, very quickly, how might we more faithfully count the cost? 
First, try to recognize the times and places where God is nudging
you to act.  What are the things that keep you awake at night or
make you say, "someone ought to do something"?  Maybe God is
suggesting that that someone is you.  Second, look at yourself,
your gifts and limitations and the places where you need to
stretch and grow.  Third, remember that one of the joys of the
church is that we don't have to do everything by ourselves. 
Someone may be thinking about our need for teachers.  "But I've
never taught before"  or "what if they ask me something I don't
know".  Or they may think of committee membership or leadership:
"I can't do that", "I don't feel qualified." Well, the simple
answer is you don't have to know everything and besides - we're
not going to string you out on a limb without support and
training.  Knowing what I know about St. Andrew's by-the-Lake I
doubt that that's happened before.  But even if it did in the
past, it stops now.  if you take on a job - on a committee, in
the Sunday School, whatever it is - and you feel you need
training, advice, counsel, support, whatever, it will be
available to you.  There are people and resources to help with
any task we undertake. If you see a task that needs doing, a
social problem needing addressing, whatever it is, maybe we can
recruit others who share the passion.  Knowledge and experience
are not the main considerations.  In our society you can learn,
beg, borrow or buy any expertise you may be lacking.  The main
issue is whether or not this is the cross God is inviting you to
take up at this time.

  For in the end, our faith convinces us that whatever the
vehicle for the request, the source of the urging is God.  The
request may come from me, or from the nominating committee or
someone else.  Part of counting the cost is to assess whether the
source is God.   If it is truly meant to be yours the invitation
comes from God, who asks us to count the cost and then, having
faithfully measured the situation, is faithful and sure in
supporting those who choose to follow Jesus and take up his cross
day by day.  So, what cost should you be counting this morning?  

Thanks be to God.  Amen

-----------------------

READING:  Philemon 1-21
SERMON :  "Real World, Real Faith" 
By     :  Rev. Dave Jagger

  As you have probably gathered by now, the theme of this unit in
the Sunday School will be "Real world, Real Faith."  Today
throughout this service there are examples of people living out a
real faith in the real world.  Your being here, today, is the
first instance.  Part of living out our faith is getting together
to worship God and support each other as a community of real
faith.  Without our faith, what we do here must seem extremely
strange, to say the least.

   In the scripture readings we heard about real faith in a real
world.  The clearest example of that was the reading of Philemon.
As we heard, Philemon had some hard choices to make concerning
his run-away slave Onesimus.  If Philemon had not been a
Christian, his choices would have been much easier.  He would
probably have killed Onesimus, or punished him so severely that
he would never again consider running away.  But as a Christian,
dealing with a Christian, things had to be different.  Philemon's
faith had a real impact on how he lived in the real world.

   The Gospel lesson, too, tells us about real faith.  Not just
the faith of people following Jesus because it is popular to do
so, but the faith of people following Jesus knowing it will lead
to hard choices and struggle as well as peace and eternal life. 
As Jesus said, "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple."  This is not a milk-toast kind of faith. 
This isn't faith the gives up when the going gets tough.  This is
real faith, that expects tough going and continues believing
straight through it.  This is the faith of the cross, as well as
the faith of the resurrection.

   We also were a part of real faith today through baptism. 
Baptism is the sacrament whereby people become members of this
congregation and The United Church of Canada and of Christ's
church throughout the world.  This is how youngsters start their
journeys as disciples.  Bringing their children for baptism is a
sign of real faith on the part of parents.  Promising to bring
them up in a Christian household.  Promising to help them find
Jesus and claim him for themselves at confirmation.  Those are
hard jobs.  Those promises require something from the parents. 
They cannot live "ordinary" lives.  They must live "Kingdom"
lives, making those hard decisions as examples to their kids of
how to be disciples of Jesus living in the Kingdom of God here
and now.

   This congregation is a part of that.  When we agree to support
children brought for baptism, we are practising real faith. 
Belief that God will be part of the process.  That the Spirit of
God will work through us and through them to finish what we
started today.  Real faith, that even when we fail, God will not
fail.

   Which leads us to another thing we will do in a little while. 
Today is the official beginning of Sunday School.  Today we will
recovenant with each other about our support for the Sunday
School and the participants in it, as one way we fulfil our
promise from Baptism.  This again, is a sign of real faith.

   Think about it.  What we are proposing to do, is to take these
kids, sit them down for an hour a week, and by the end of it all,
some time later, they will be ready to make this faith their own. 
To accept the sacrifice and work of Jesus for themselves.  They
will take their place along side the rest of us as brothers and
sisters in Christ and as full members of this congregation.  This
is what we are trying to do.  Isn't that incredible?  As a Sunday
School teacher, how does that make you feel?  What power!  What
responsibility.  We are trying to nurture and grow young
Christians, who are the church now, with us, and will be the
church in the future when we are gone.

   On our own, we may have some success.  However, on the whole,
we will fail miserably.  With the help of the Holy Spirit,
though, we can do this task we have set for ourselves.  It is our
real faith, that allows us to keep doing this Sunday School thing
year after year after year.  Believing that God is at work in it
all and that somehow, through the grace of God those kids come
out the other end, not just as good little citizens, but as
disciples.  Without our real faith, this is foolish.  With our
real faith, it is not only possible, but it works.  We've seen it
work.  There are people here today, only because it really works. 
Real faith in a real world.

   Now there's one more thing I want to touch on today.  Pretty
well everything so far has had to do with things that go on in
this building (Except living out the baptism promises).  That's
OK, because this building is a central point in our Christian
lives here.  But this is real faith, in the real world.  Out
there.  So whatever we do in here, must have implications and
direct consequences out there.  For example, the petition you
heard about last week.

   CKNX-AM radio is cancelling the Sunday evening church service
from local churches.  We have been asked to sign a petition
requesting them to not cancel this program.  What do we do?  How
does our real faith, and the things we say and do in this
building impact in this situation out there in the real world?  I
would like to be able to tell you why CKNX-AM made this decision. 
I can't.  I tried to get a hold of the program director, but we
have been playing telephone tag.  I will keep trying.  So I can't
give you that information to help us make a decision.  I'm also
not going to tell you whether you should sign or not.  That is
your decision to make.  However, our faith has some things to say
here.

   First, this radio program is a form of Pastoral Care.  There
are probably people who use this program as their only form of
church.  Shut-ins, people in hospital, etc.   People who can't
get out to worship on their own and who would otherwise be left
out.

   Second, we believe that the message of Christ must be shared. 
The good news is so good and so important, we can't keep it to
ourselves.  We have also been commanded by Jesus to be witnesses
to what we know and believe.  This program does that.

   Third, we are the church.  We are the people who have first
hand experience with Jesus and this faith of ours.  We each have
a responsibility to personally share Christ's message.  We have a
responsibility as a congregation to take care of our own shut-ins
and people, making sure that they are able to participate in
worship and the sacraments.  If we rely on someone else to do our
job for us, we have failed in our task.  We end up in a situation
like we are in now, when the someone else stops doing our job and
so we are stuck.

   You see the dilemma here?  Without faith, it's an easy
decision.  Cancel the show.  There's no money in it.  Not many
people listen to it any way.  The time could be better used. 
With our real faith though it's a different matter.  Consider the
shut-ins.  Consider the unchurched.  Consider our own
responsibilities.

   As I said, it's your decision whether you sign the petition or
not.  Whatever your choice, remember that you are living out your
real faith in the real world in what you do.
   Real faith.  Real world.  Worship, scripture, decisions,
Baptism, social action.  It's all there.  When we look at it it's
clear.  We ARE people of REAL FAITH living out that faith in a
REAL WORLD. 

Pushing Ahead:
- Make a decision about the petition.  If you need more
information, call the radio station. If you chose to sign, I will
take it to the back this week.
- Pray for our Sunday School.  Ask God to bless the kids and the
teachers.  Keep them in your prayers all year.  They need that
kind of support in the awesome task they have undertaken.
- Look around.  In what ways are you already living out your real
faith in the real world?  Give thanks to God for all that you are
able to do.

AMEN.


copyright - edited by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
          - Rev Dr. Ross Bartlett 1995-2004
          - Rev. David Jagger 1995- 2004
          please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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