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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 30 - Year C
Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 84; II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
"Pharisees, Tax Collectors, And Other Sinners"

READING:  Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 84; II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
SERMON :  "Pharisees, Tax Collectors, And Other Sinners"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or30sesn 448803
    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 Children's Story is adapted from an outline in "Word
    & Witness" 1983

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Psalm 34:1-2,17-22)
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  I will bless the Lord at all times.  
   God's praise shall continually be in my mouth.
P  Our souls make their boast in the Lord.  
   Let the humble hear and be glad.
L  When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears them 
   and rescues them from all their troubles.
P  The Lord is near to those who are brokenhearted;
   our God saves those who are crushed in Spirit.
L  The Lord redeems the lives of his servants.  
   None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

- Welcome and Announcements    
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


By our presence here today, O God, we acknowledge you as the one who has
created us - and the one who redeems us and sustains us.  We worship you
for all the wonderful things you have done.  We confess our deep and
abiding need for your forgiveness to set our lives right, for your wisdom
to guide us each day, and for your love to fill our every thought and
action.  Help us this day to remember what is important and to set aside
that which is not.  As we share ourselves with you through prayer, and as
we hear your word and sing your praises, we ask that this time be a
blessing to us, and by your grace working in us, result in blessings to
others.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.     

* HYMN: "We Praise You, O God"                                     - VU 218

CHILDREN'S TIME  "The Magic Balloons"
Theme     Self Importance
Object    Various Balloons     
Source    Modified from a story in "Word and Witness", 1983 

Good morning.   Today I want to tell you the story about a little girl
called Tracy and her magic balloon, balloons like these balloons right
here.  What was magical about them was that they could talk and they could
help Tracy by telling her when they felt just right. 

One day her little brother was having a birthday party and she decided to
blow them up for him.  She  took the first balloon and blew it up.  As she
did it got more and more beautiful.  The first balloon didn't say much,
but when she got it just about like this.... it said, "I'm not very big,
but I feel full now.  I am just right as I am.  Please tie me up and give
me to someone.  Maybe, though I'm small, I can make them happy."

The next balloon said, "that balloon is so pretty.  Blow me up now
please."  And again, when it was nice and round it said, "I am not very
big, but I am just right now.  Please tie me up and give me to someone. 
Maybe, though I am small, I can make them happy."

The third balloon couldn't wait.  It told Tracy to start blowing it up
right away.  As it got rounder and rounder and bigger and bigger, it kept
saying to Tracy "blow a little more, because I am not like  those other
balloons.  I am meant to be bigger and better and even more beautiful than
they."  So Tracy kept blowing and blowing -- and the balloon kept on
saying, "go on - because I am bigger and better than those little
balloons."  So Tracy kept on blowing and blowing because the balloons
always knew when they were right...

   Forgive us God - when we act bigger than we are - help us bring joy
   to others - and to not compare ourselves to one other - we ask it
   in the name of Jesus - 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

As we hear God's word today - let us reflect on who we are before God -
and indeed before one another.  Following in the bulletin, let us pray the
prayer of confession written there....

L  Lord, we confess with shame and regret that we have trusted in
   ourselves and regarded others as less than ourselves:
P  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
L  Lord, we confess with sadness and grief that we have failed those
   who trusted us and hurt those who needed us:
P  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
L  Lord, we confess with hope and in faith our need of your healing, 
   and our trust in your grace:
P  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
   ............... (silent prayer) ..............
L  Forgive us O God - and show us the way to new life.
P  Touch us and make us whole.  Amen
-- Sung Response (VU 948):  
   O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer; 
   when I call answer me.
   O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer; 
   come and listen to me.
Our faith is this - that Christ delivers those who are truly sorry and
repent of their sins, that he intercedes for them before the judgment seat
of Almighty God, that he cleanses them and makes them fit to dwell in
God's heavenly dominion.  

Hear then God's word of grace to us today.  In Christ Jesus we are
forgiven.  Indeed God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with
which he loves, makes us alive together with Christ.  

Thanks be to God for his gift of love and mercy, now and always.  Amen

   (NIV)  Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he
   has given you the autumn rains in righteousness.  He sends you
   abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. {24} The
   threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow
   with new wine and oil. {25} 'I will repay you for the years the
   locusts have eaten-- the great locust and the young locust, the other
   locusts and the locust swarm -- my great army that I sent among you.
   {26} You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will
   praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you;
   never again will my people be shamed. {27} Then you will know that I
   am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other;
   never again will my people be shamed. {28} 'And afterward, I will pour
   out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
   your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. {29}
   Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in
   those days. {30} I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
   blood and fire and billows of smoke. {31} The sun will be turned to
   darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and
   dreadful day of the LORD. {32} And everyone who calls on the name of
   the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will
   be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the
   LORD calls.

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

RESPONSIVE PSALM READING:  Psalm 84  (Voices United 800) 

   (NIV)  For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and
   the time has come for my departure. {7} I have fought the good fight,
   I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. {8} Now there is in
   store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
   Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to
   all who have longed for his appearing.

   At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted
   me.  May it not be held against them. {17} But the Lord stood at my
   side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be
   fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  And I was
   delivered from the lion's mouth. {18} The Lord will rescue me from
   every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To
   him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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

* HYMN:  "Amazing Grace"                                           - VU 266

   (NIV)  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and
   looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: {10} "Two men
   went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax
   collector. {11} The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God,
   I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers,
   adulterers--or even like this tax collector. {12} I fast twice a week
   and give a tenth of all I get.' {13} "But the tax collector stood at a
   distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and
   said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' {14} "I tell you that this
   man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For
   everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
   himself will be exalted."

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

SERMON: "Pharisees, Tax Collectors, And Other Sinners"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in
   the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants
   listen.  Amen.

When I first started going to church some 25 years ago I had some real
problems with people there.
Do you ever have problems with church people?

I certainly did.

I was at that time - two and half decades ago - and still am - what some
would call a bible believing Christian - I not only took my bible to
church with me every Sunday, but I normally had one in my briefcase and
another in the glove compartment of my little pickup truck.

At that time the faith was new to me and I was enthusiastic and eager. 
Winning souls for God was important to me,
   prayer was important;
   enthusiasm in worship was important;
- and, while I was in a very good congregation, a charismatic and
evangelical  congregation of the United Church of Canada on Vancouver
Island,  I nevertheless found that I was in some kind of minority within
the church.

I looked around me at worship services 
 - and I saw that many people there did not read their bibles,
they did not sing the hymns,
they did not seem to pray,
nor did they fellowship with their brothers and sisters afterwards.

How many of you folk do that   you know - check out what other people are
doing during worship?  Looking to see if they are singing, or if they
close their eyes during prayer time or lift up their hands?

I think lots of us do it.  
During worship - and at other times in our life together.

And when I did it,  when I checked things out, I noted that many in my
congregation seem more concerned that the service end exactly one hour
after it began so they could get home and eat - than they were about the
actual worship they were involved in.

I noted too that only about 10% of the congregation ever bothered
attending the weekly  bible studies and prayer meetings; and - and that -
as far as I could tell by how they talked - most of them had never really
grasped the gospel message is one of grace - instead of works -- that
Jesus died not so  folks who treated one another decently could be
rewarded - but so that sinners could approach the throne of God and find
there a welcome that they do not deserve.

I had real problems with some of the people in the church in other words.  
To my eyes the church was full of hypocrites, 
full of people who could barely talk the talk, let alone walk the walk.

You ever make judgements like that???
You ever thought of yourself as better than someone else???

One of the biggest issues I had at worship services in those days were the
prayers of confession that were often printed in the bulletin - as one was
printed in our bulletin this morning.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I still have a strong reaction to
the words that I find in prayers of confession that have been written by
other folk.

The fact that those prayers were prayers of confession didn't bother me.  
I knew I was a sinner.  What bothered me was the kinds of sins that were
often listed in the prayers: - things like - neglect of the poor -
selfishness - ingratitude - racism - and the like.

I found it hard to pray some of those prayers because I knew in my heart
that I had not done those particular things - that I was not especially
selfish or neglectful of the poor, nor was I in any way a racist, or
ungrateful for all that God, and indeed other people, did for me.

I found it hard, in part, because I  knew in those long ago days that, all
in all, I was pretty much on the right track.

While I was not well off, I gave a substantial amount to the work of God
each year, a tenth of my income in fact, and that little tenth was more
than most others in the church gave, though they had far more income than

Indeed, I tithed, 
I went to prayer meetings every Tuesday night, 
I attended a bible study every Wednesday night,
   and I worshipped almost every Sunday morning, 
   - even if I had company coming for lunch or relatives were expected to
   drop in for supper.
I even volunteered as a camp counsellor at Camp Moorecroft a week every
summer and went carolling at Christmas at the homes of shut-ins, and
helped out whenever I could with church suppers and special events, and
helped lead in worship when the minister was away.

Not bad eh?
I know that many of you out there have been there.
You have been faithful.  You have been generous.
You have worked hard and asked nothing in return.

Like me all those years ago, you too have realized God needs many workers
in his vineyard.  Like me, you knew too that your efforts have made a
difference both to others, and in the end, to you.

Now in all this you have to understand I was not particularly prideful.  
Any more than the hard workers among you are particularly prideful.
I knew that there were sins that I committed - 
   I knew that I needed God's grace and forgiveness -
       I believed that it was only because of Jesus Christ and his
       sacrifice upon the cross that I would enter heaven.

My favourite hymns in fact revolved around these ideas 
- and I, even with the poor memory that I have, 
memorized some of the key verses of those hymns:
verses from songs like those we sing today:

   Amazing Grace - how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
   I once was lost, but now and found, was blind, but now I see.


  Just as I am, without one plea - but that O Lord, you died for me.

One of my favourite sayings from that time of my life,
in fact it is still one of my favourite sayings,
was a short and simple one that is know to you all 
- There, but for the grace of God, go I. -

Those hymns, those verses, and that saying, my friends, are good stuff,
   they are of the essence of the gospel -
but I want to suggest to each of you here today, that they can easily be
misused by us;
   that they can be, for us, songs and words that allow us to feel good
   about ourselves, and good about what we are about, instead of being
   words that penetrate and pierce our hearts!

We may, in other words, comprehend in our heads what these words
concerning God's grace mean,
   but in our hearts,
   and with our feet and our hands and our lips,
   display a total lack of true appreciation for their messages.

In still other words, We may fail, by our behaviours and by our attitudes
to really understand who we are before God - and who we are in
relationship to one another.

Hear today's reading from the gospel once again:

   "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the
   other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was
   praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
   thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I
   fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 

   But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to
   heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to
   me, a sinner!' 

If you were one of the two folk described in that reading, which would you

You know, it is one thing to thank God for what he has done for us,
   for the blessings we have received
but it is quite another thing to compare ourselves to one another
   and to thank God for the differences, as if somehow we are better than
   that poor miserable tax collector over there,
       better than that single mother who drinks too much,
       or that clumsy idiot who is our fellow worker
       or the parishioner who sits next to us and seems to have no real
       faith at all.

But we do it don't we?

We do it - whether we see ourselves as the tax collector begging God's
forgiveness, or as the Pharisee - who has been diligent in all things of
the faith.

I don't know about you.  But I suspect that most of you do it.

Even I, some 25 years later from when I began, find myself doing it upon
occasion, I still find others lacking something - which I, by the logic of
the observation, think I have.

Why oh why do we, do I, such dumb things?
Why oh why do we, do I, engage in behaviour, or hold an attitude,
that can do not but end up dividing us, one from another?

That is the mystery of sin my friends.
It has power.

And while we have breath, we must continually fight that power.  We must
fight it - and we must trust in the good Lord to forgive us when we fail.

You all know the Jesus Prayer don't you?    That famous prayer that is
recommended as a mantra, which we should repeat over and over again, when
we get down to serious praying?

   "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."

   "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."

   "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."

It comes from today's gospel reading - where the tax collector - the
lowest of the low according to all that was right and holy in those days -
and even today - beats his breast and says: "God, be merciful to me, a

Words to live by.  Words to cultivate in our minds and hearts that we
might know the true joy of salvation.

There is a beautiful promise in today's gospel lesson my friends,
the promise is this:
   "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble
   themselves will be exalted."

It is a promise of God, but it is also a challenge 
- a challenge because it is very hard not to exalt oneself, 
- very hard not to think that somehow or other, that I am better than that
person over there: that tax collector, that sinner, that arrogant person,
that cheat, that hypocrite, that lazy person, that liar, that domineering

It is very hard, but it is not impossible .

We do not have to think that we have the one right answer; that because we
do this or that thing better, or more often than others, we are somehow
better people, wiser people, or holier people than those who do it poorly
or less often than we.

We do not have to think that because we are more diligent at serving God
inside the church and out, that because we tithe, or attend worship more
often than most other people, that we are somehow more important, or more
faithful, or more loved by God than they are.

Nor do we have to think - that because we work hard, pay our taxes, and
refuse to hold out our hands, that we are better than immigrants from the
third world, or politicians, or those who own big businesses, or people on

   "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble
   themselves will be exalted."

A promise.
And a challenge,
a challenge that we are all called to embrace
a challenge that we are all called to work on..

There is an old Hasidic saying that goes like this: 

  "The person who thinks he can live without others is mistaken; the
   person who thinks that others can't live without him are even more

Our prayer each day - should not be 
   "O Lord, I thank you that I am not like other people - like John or
   Jane, like my mother or my fellow worker";
but rather it should be 
   "I thank you God that you are so good to me - me a miserable sinner; 
   help me be good to others in the same way."

Praise be to God, day by day.  Amen

* HYMN:  "Just As I Am"                                            - VU 508

To you be glory forever and ever, O God, for you rescue us from evil
attack and save us for your heavenly kingdom.  Since the dawn of creation
all you touch comes alive; grain abounds and vats overflow with wine and
oil.  You pour out your spirit like rain on all flesh and your people bear
a wonderful harvest of visions, prophesies, and songs of praise.  In Jesus
Christ, your son and our brother, you have torn down those who exalted
themselves and given a crown of righteousness to those who confessed their
sin and cast themselves on your mercy, looking to you for strength for the
fight of the faith.  We thank you Lord for your mercy and for your
strength, we thank you for your grace.....   Lord hear our prayer....

Father, you alone are Holy.  Help us overcome any tendency we have to
judge others and so exalt ourselves.  Make us a people who approach you
with reverence and respect and with joy over what you have done, are
doing, and will yet do..... Lord hear our prayer...

Loving and Gracious Lord, we give you thanks and praise for how you have
touched our lives.  We turn to you with our concerns for one another, with
our concerns for the world at this time, and ask that you would hear our
prayers for those we have named before you in this congregation, and those
whose names we have kept in our hearts:

Father, we pray for those special concerns and people who were named
before you this day in our sharing time - and those who are upon our
hearts at this time.... BIDDING PRAYER
....Lord, hear our prayer....

Father, we pray too for those in authority over us - for our country and
it's leaders, and for all the nations of this earth and those who exercise
power within them...  Lord, hear our prayer...

Father, we pray for St. Andrew's United and your church around the world
today, that it may be faithful to the mission you have set before us - and
live as Christ commands us...  Lord, hear our prayer..

We ask these things in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and our Saviour. 


* 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

   Gracious and Most Holy God - Spirit of Peace and Truth -  bless us
   and all your people with a renewed sense of our need for you and of
   your all sufficient grace.  Help us be ones who, in humility and in
   thankfulness, seek to do your will daily.  Make us each day more
   like Jesus and all the saints who have gone before us -faithful
   witnesses to your saving power and transforming love.  We ask it in
   his name.  Amen. 

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "If You Will Trust In God To Guide You"         - VU 286

* 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 the name of Jesus,   
- and may your confidence be entirely in God our Creator, 
- may your hope rest fully in God our Redeemer, 
- and may your only boast be in the power and the wisdom and the
compassion of God our Sustainer 
this both now and forevermore.  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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