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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for Ordinary 29 - Proper 24 - Year C
II Timothy 3:14-4:5; Psalm 119:97-104; Luke 18:1-8
"Will He Find Faith on the Earth"



READING:  II Timothy 3:14-4:5; Psalm 119:97-104; Luke 18:1-8
SERMON :  "Will He Find Faith on the Earth"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or29sm 631
                    
    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".
     
    Sources:  The Sermon contains liberal citations from "Tough Faith
    In Tough Times" from Larry Kalajainem's "Extraordinary Faith For
    Ordinary Time, Sermons For Last Third Cycle C Gospel Texts", CSS
    Publishing Company, Inc. 1994 and from "Blessed By God, We Shall
    Persevere" by Karn S. Parker, in "Augsburg Sermons 3: Gospels,
    Series C", 1994.  The children's story is adapted from story for
    this lection from "Children' Sermon Plus", Vol 25, No 4., Cycle 
    C 1995


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Habakkuk 3:17-19)
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    Even if the fig tree does not blossom, 
     and there is no fruit on the vines;
P    Though the produce of the olive fails 
     and the fields yield no food;
L    Even if the flock is cut off from the fold 
     and there is no herd in the stalls;
P    Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; 
     I will exult in the God of my salvation.
L    I will rejoice in the Lord and worship him, 
     for He is my God, my strength and my hope.


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

MUSIC AND SILENT PREPARATION


PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of our days and our nights - of our valleys and our mountain tops, we
come into your sanctuary  and into your presence at this time to worship
you - to give you the praise that you deserve, to show  you the love that
we have for you because of your goodness, to learn from you what you would
have us do and be.  Grant that this may be a time of prayer - of communion
- of thought and meditation.  Grant too that we may rejoice no matter what
the circumstances in our lives - and develop a stronger faith in you.  We
ask it in the name of Christ Jesus - our Lord.  Amen.


* HYMN: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"                            - VU 232


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Praying Always"
Theme:    God Answers Us In Due Time - Persist
Object:   Pocket Knife         
Source:   adapted from story for this lection from "Children' Sermon Plus",
          Vol 25, No 4., Cycle C 1995

Good morning.  Today I want to tell you the story about a boy named Tom. 
Everyone called him Tommy except at home.  Sometimes at home he was called
Tom, or more likely Thomas, or - when he was in trouble - Thomas James.

Tom wanted a pocketknife - a Swiss army knife for his birthday.  He told
his mother and he told his dad, he told his grandma and his grandpa too. 
He told aunts and uncles and even his teacher at preschool that he was
going to get a pocket knife for his birthday.  But when his birthday came,
he didn't get the knife.  How do you think he felt???    Have you every
felt that way???

Tom was very upset.  He had gotten lots of nice gifts from his parents and
his grandparents and from others, but he didn't get his knife.  So Tom
started thinking about Christmas.  Christmas was a long  way away, but he
told everybody - and I mean everybody - that he was going to get a knife
for Christmas.  He knew that if his parents, grandparents, or others,
didn't get him his knife, surely Santa Claus would get it for him.

Every day and every night Tom thought about his knife.  He just couldn't
wait to open the present that would contain his nice, shining, new, knife. 
Tom grew excited just thinking about it.  It seemed that Christmas would
never come.  But the big day did arrive and Tom eagerly opened every
present.  But there was no knife.  Why do you think that Tom hadn't got a
knife????

Tom never gave up and when he got old enough to handle a knife safely and
show his parents that  he was really responsible in taking care of things
he got his knife.  His greatest wish came true.

When we pray to God, we pray for people and things and sometimes it seems
that God has heard our prayer right away.  Other times it seems like God
does not even hear us.  It seems like God has forgotten us.  It seems like
we are wasting our time even praying to God.  But, like Tom's parents, God
hears us.  God answers every prayer.  Sometimes though, like Tom's parents,
God feels that we are not ready for the thing we want.  God though wants us
to keep on praying - to listen to him - and to never give up looking and
asking for the very best things for ourselves and for other people.


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
     We thank you God - for hearing our prayers - and for taking care
     of us. - Help us pray to you every day - and to never give up -
     never stop believing - till you have answered us.  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: "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus"                             - VU 357


A READING FROM  II TIMOTHY 3:14-4:5
     (NIV)  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have
     become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,
     {15} and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which
     are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
     {16} All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
     rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, {17} so that the
     man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

     In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living
     and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you
     this charge: {2} Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of
     season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful
     instruction. {3} For the time will come when men will not put up with
     sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather
     around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears
     want to hear. {4} They will turn their ears away from the truth and
     turn aside to myths. {5} But you, keep your head in all situations,
     endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the
     duties of your ministry.

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


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 119:97-104  (VU 840 - Part Four) 
                         

A READING FROM LUKE 18:1-8
     (NIV)  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they
     should always pray and not give up. {2} He said: "In a certain town
     there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. {3} And
     there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea,
     'Grant me justice against my adversary.' {4} "For some time he
     refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God
     or care about men, {5} yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I
     will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me
     out with her coming!'" {6} And the Lord said, "Listen to what the
     unjust judge says. {7} And will not God bring about justice for his
     chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting
     them off? {8} I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and
     quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the
     earth?"

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


* HYMN: "Open My Eyes"                                             - VU 371


SERMON:  "Will He Find Faith on Earth"

     God of our days and our nights, of our coming and our going,
     bless we pray thee, the words of my lips and the meditations of
     our hearts and by them and the power of your Holy Spirit, make us
     more fitting servants of your most Holy Will.  We ask it in
     Jesus' name.  Amen.

Perseverance is a trait that is much admired in our society and with good
reason.  

Those who do not try - and try again - until they succeed - are bound to
fail.   While those who persist, who labour unceasingly, who hang in,
generally accomplish a great deal.
 
The bible is full of examples of perseverance - 
     - from Jacob wrestling with the angel at the River Jabuk and refusing
     to let this much stronger opponent go until he receives a blessing,
     - to Paul - who despite being imprisoned, stoned, flogged, beaten, and
     shipwrecked and having to endure hunger, thirst, nakedness, and
     rejection - went to all the known world and preached the gospel and so
     brought to completion the job to which Christ called him.

The Gospel today seems to be a classical example of the link between
perseverance and blessing; between unflagging doggedness and achieving
one's goal.

Luke sets the story in the context of a challenge Jesus makes to his
disciples to pray always and not lose heart.  His story describes a widow
who wouldn't give up until she got what she wanted from an uncaring - an
unjust - judge.  Jesus concludes the story by saying: "And will not God
grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?"

The lesson seems clear - persevere and you will be blessed.

Today I want to challenge you by questioning that teaching.  Indeed I want
to suggest to you that Jesus was trying to tell his disciples something
entirely different.

We believe, you see, in a God of grace, 
a God who freely gives his people what they need.  

Jesus says over and over again: 
     "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners".  
And over and over again we are told by him and by the Apostles 
     that he went to the cross for us, he died for us, while we were yet
     alienated from him, while we were his enemies.

Indeed the essence of the gospel is found in the scripture that says:  
     "For by grace you have been saved through faith, 
     and that is not your own doing, it is a gift of God."

So how can we take this passage of scripture and assert that if we do
something 
     - if we work at praying hard enough 
     - if we just hang in there and pester God without mercy 
then God will roll over and give us what we want?

This kind of assertion reduces the gospel to a mere matter of works and it
makes a mockery out of any statement that tries to assert that God is
loving and giving.

Furthermore - because it reduces the gospel to a matter of works - it lays
guilt trips on some people and creates pride in others:

     "If you try hard enough - God will give you stuff - see what I have..."

And, 

     "If you don't try hard enough - God will not listen to you - you
     will not get what you want or need...."

How can we say such things and look one another in the eye?
     
How can we tell the person who is suffering from cancer 
- "You haven't prayed hard enough"?
How can we suggest to the person whose son has been killed 
- "If you had remembered to pray to God every day this would not have
happened?"
And how can we stomach the person who suggests 
- that everything they have is because they worked hard and prayed to God
till they got it?

Persevere and you will be blessed is not gospel!

It is important of course: fidelity, commitment, and hard work do take us
places in this world, but it is not the good news we celebrate here each
week.

Think for a minute of the gospel story we heard here a few weeks ago - the
story of the man who goes to neighbour at midnight to borrow food for an
unexpected guest.  Think of the punch line of that story - how Jesus says
that the neighbour will get up and give the man some bread, not because he
is a friend but because of the man's persistence.

And think of today's story and of it's punch line - how the unjust judge
says:  "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because
this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may
not wear me out by continually coming."

Though both stories sound as if their lesson is "persevere and you will be
blessed" the reality is that they are told to draw a contrast:
- a contrast between God and the reluctant neighbour 
- and between God and the uncaring Judge.

If a corrupt and unjust Judge will render justice because the plaintiff is
so persistent, how much more is God, who loves us and is concerned about
us, willing to answer us when we call to him?

Which leads to the point of the parable - to the reason Jesus told this
story.  The words with which the story opens - and indeed the words with
which it closes.

To remind you - the opening line was: "Then Jesus told them a story about
their need to pray always and not to lose heart"  

The concluding line is "I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to those
who cry to him day and night.... and yet when the Son of Man comes, will he
find faith on earth?"

Jesus calls us, with the example of the widow and the unjust judge, to have
faith, to trust that God in his goodness will bring about the justice we
all seek, the blessing we all require - and that we should continue in
prayer for these things till they happen.

It is simply a matter of timing.

I head a story which illustrates how we often confuse God's timing with our
own.

     A rural newspaper had been running a series of articles on the
     value of church attendance.  One day, a letter to the editor was
     received.  It read:

     "Print this if you dare.  I am trying an experiment.  I have a
     field of corn which I plowed on Sunday.  I planted it on Sunday. 
     I did all the cultivating on Sunday.  I gathered the harvest on
     Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday.  I find that my
     harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbours'
     who went to church on Sunday.  So where was God all this time?"

     The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom:
     "You're mistake was in thinking that God always settles his
     accounts in October."

That's often our mistake as well, isn't it?  Thinking that God should act
when and how we want him to act, according to our timetable and according
to our desire.

     The fact that our vision is limited, that we are unable to see
     the end from the beginning, somehow escapes our minds.  That our
     desire, while often very good, runs against the freedom that God
     has given, for good or ill, to all people...  

Bad things happen my friends.  
And Sometimes it seems to us that God doesn't care:
- that he doesn't make a difference in our lives  
- that justice will not come about,
- that evil will prevail 
- that death will have the last word.

This is why Jesus says we ought to pray always and not lose heart.
This is why he asks 
"when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?"

Persistence in prayer is part of what faithfulness is all about.  

It means refusing to give in to appearances and continuing to trust God to
act in his way and in his time.  It may appear that we are alone.  It may
appear that God does not hear.  It may appear that injustice and evil are
prevailing.  BUT faith dares to go on praying, it dares to approach the
reality we cannot see and live by it. 

This is what makes people of faith different from other people. 
We are willing to live by what we cannot see, but believe to be real,
rather than by what we can see, and what the world tells us is real.

Many people pray my friends 
- And mostly they pray when they are in a jam and are desperate because
they cannot come up with some fast and efficient human solution.  
- They pray because they have an incurable disease 
- They pray because they cannot figure out any way to help themselves.  
And when they don't get the answer they expect when they expect it, the
temptation is to stop praying and start asking "Why?"

That is not faith my friends.  
It is not faithful living.  
It is not what Jesus calls us to.  

Jesus calls us to pray always and not to lose heart.  

God has a blessing in mind for us.  
He has promised to stand by us and to vindicate us.  
He has promised a new heaven and a new earth.  
He has promised to save and deliver those who trust in him, 
- those who are joined to his people, those who have faith.

The real lesson of today's gospel is not 
- persist and you will get a blessing.

That is not in doubt for those who believe.

The real lesson is found in our reaction to the world around us -
in our reaction to our trials and tribulations and to the trials and
tribulations of this world.

Do we trust God.  Do we believe?  Do we pray always and not lose heart?  
Or do we see this world as all there really is - and only go to God when we
can't do anything else, and then abandon God when things aren't happening
as we think they should.

Where is the point in your life at which you need to let go of your fears,
your frustrations, your impatience, your anger, and sink down into patient
trusting in God's timing and his way of working? 

Where is the point in your life at which you need to stop asking Why and
instead trust God to bring about that which He has promised?  That which he
calls us to pray for and to look for and to expect during the time when it
doesn't seem to be happening.

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  

That is the question this parable asks of each of us.
May you be blessed in your own answering of it, 
day by day, till the day our Saviour returns.  
Amen


* HYMN: "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God"                         - VU 356


THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Let us pause now in silence and listen and meditate and bless the Lord our
God....

Gracious God, you have richly blessed us - and yet so often we fail to
thank you for these blessings.  Instead we focus on what bothers us, what
afflicts us, and we cry out, not in faith, but in doubt.  Why ask why - and
we doubt your goodness - and we become mired in anger, despair, and
depression.  Forgive us Lord and help us to have a faith that
perseveres....  Lord hear our prayer.. 

Father - many of us are concerned about the state and condition of the land
in which we live.  Help us to pray about these concerns and to do the work
we can to bring your truth and your power to bear.  Wake up those who sleep
and bring peace to those who are anxious...  Lord, hear our prayer... 

Lord, in faith today we offer to you the many burdens that weigh upon us
and our family and our world.  We think of those who are in ill health -
those who are in financial need - those are grieving - those who have been
named this morning in this place - and those we lift up to you now... -
BIDDING PRAYER... Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray too O Lord, for those in other lands and in our own land who
experience injustice and oppression - for those who hunger and cannot find
food - for those who thirst and have no drink.... Lord hear our prayer....

We pray too, O Lord, for our nation and those set in authority over us -
and for all the rulers and nations of this world - that they may be full of
justice and of compassion - that they may prosper and share the blessings
you pour out upon the world...   Lord, hear our prayer...

We come before you, O God, through your Son, Christ Jesus our Saviour, our
brother, and our friend.  Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* 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

	Dear Lord, receive and accept and bless to the work of your Kingdom 
	and your glory all that we offer to you today - both on these plates
	and now in the silence of our hearts...   We ask it in the name of 
	Christ Jesus.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Your Hand, O God, Has Guided"                  - VU 274


* 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 AND THREEFOLD AMEN  
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and the blessing of Christ Jesus, 
the blessing of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, 
abide with and within you both now and always.  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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