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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for Ordinary 30 - Proper 25 - Year C
Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 84; II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
"Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner"



READING:  Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 84; II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
SERMON :  "Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or30su 952000
                    
  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 from a story by Charles
   Kirkpatrick, www.sermons4kids.com, Oct 2004.  Our sermon is
   indebted to the words and thoughts of Brother Anthony, CSAP
   (RBAnthony@cybernet1.com) "Mercy Listens to the Humble Heart"  Year
   C, 30th Ord., 2001.  The story about Seymour was cited in Fr. Jerry
   Fuller, o.m.i." (padre@TRI-LAKES.NET) "Homily 11/04/01 Zacchaeus"

   
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.
L  Our God saves those who are crushed in Spirit.
P  Praise be to God, now and forever and ever.  Amen


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
O God, you are the one who has created us - and you are the one who
redeems us and sustains us.  We thank you Lord, we thank you and we praise
you....  Precious Lord, 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 to
remember what is important and to set aside that which is not.  As we come
before you in prayer, as we hear your word and sing your praises, and as
we worship you with our brothers and sisters in Christ,  we ask that this
time be a blessing to us, and that your name - and your name alone - might
be glorified and exalted.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Come, Let Us Sing To The Lord Our Song"                  - VU 222
   

CHILDREN'S TIME  "Headed For A Fall"
Theme     They who exalt themselves will be humbled (Luke 18:14)
Object    Building Blocks     
Source    Reproduced with permission from a story by Charles Kirkpatrick,
          "Sermons 4 Kids" (www.sermons4kids.com), 2004.

Every child at some time in their life has played with building blocks.  I
still remember the fun I had as a child building different things from
these blocks.  One thing that I remember very well is that I used to enter
into a contest with another child to see who could build the tallest
tower.  The one who could stack up the most blocks without their tower
falling was the winner.  Did you every play that game?  

I thought it might be fun to play the tower game this morning.  Here is
the way we will play.  For every good thing I can say about myself, I will
add a block.  Let's see, where shall I start?

Well, I go to church every Sunday...  I go to Bible Study on Tuesday
night... I read my Bible every day...  I say my prayers before I go to bed
at night...  I give thanks before every meal...  I give an offering in
every week...I even gave a little extra last week for children in the
Sudan...  I pay my bills on time... I almost always tell the truth... I
don't talk about my friends behind their back... I keep my room clean and
put my dirty clothes in the hamper... (Keep going as long as necessary to
make the tower fall.)  Crash!
  
Well, my tower got just a little to tall, didn't it? 

Jesus taught his disciples that whenever people boast and brag about the
things that they do, they are headed for a fall!  He told about two men
who went to the temple.  One bragged about all of the great things he did
and thanked God that he wasn't like those other sinners in the temple.  
The other man, instead of bragging about how great he was, humbly asked
God to forgive him for all of the times he failed to be the kind of person
that God wanted him to be.  Jesus was not the least bit impressed with all
of the boasting of the first man. Jesus said that we should be humble --
like the second man.  After all, when we compare our goodness to the
goodness of Jesus, it just doesn't stack up, does it? 


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God -  help us to remember - that when we are proud of
   ourselves - and the things we have - and all the good we do - that
   we are headed for a fall. -   Instead help us - put our trust in
   you - and to follow Jesus each day - knowing it is his goodness -
   and his goodness alone - that opens the door to heaven - so that we
   may enter in.   - 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


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Welcome and Announcements    
- Birthdays and Anniversaries     
- Special Matters     
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AND INTROIT FOR THE WORD   (v2 of 371)
                        
 Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
 and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear,
 Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
 Open my ears, illumine me. Spirit divine! 


A READING FROM JOEL 2:23-32
   (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.  The
   threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow
   with new wine and oil.  

   '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.  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.  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. 

   '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.  Even on my servants, both men and
   women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  I will show
   wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows
   of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
   before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.  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 (VU800) and the Gloria Patri (sung):

   Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. 
   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen 


A READING FROM II TIMOTHY 4:6-8,16-18
   (NIV)  For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and
   the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight,
   I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  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.  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.  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


A READING FROM LUKE 18:9-14
   (NIV)  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and
   looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

   "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the
   other a tax collector.  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.  I fast
   twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 

   "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.' 

   "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: "Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner"

   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.

In the second chapter of the letter to the Ephesians Paul writes these
words:

   For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not
   from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one
   may boast.

Hear this word too from the fifth chapter of Paul's Letter to the Romans:

   Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good
   man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his
   own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died
   for us.

These words we have just heard help us to understand the gospel reading
today - and indeed the readings we heard from the Prophet Joel and from
Paul's Second Letter to Timothy.

The message of Joel concerns the Day of the Lord 
- the day of vindication - of salvation - for those whom God has called.

In Joel's message we hear that God will deliver his people from their
afflictions:
   - that it is God who gives the Holy Spirit -his living presence - to
   all flesh 
   - it is God who promises - even before he is asked - to save all who
   call upon him, those who have returned to him with their hearts, those
   who call upon him with fasting and weeping and mourning.

          For by grace you have been saved 
          through faith, 
          and this is not from you; 
          it is the gift of God

In the Second Reading this morning we heard St. Paul giving Timothy his
final instructions - and telling Timothy about his own death and what he
expects.  He writes:

   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.

Note how the crown of righteousness is awarded to all who have longed for
the appearing of Christ.  Paul makes no mention is made of his virtues -
nor of anyone else's - except that of Christ himself.

   But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: 
   While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The church has long called the message of Christ Jesus - the Gospel - the
Good News.

The Good News is based on two simple facts:

The first fact is that we are all sinful and separated from God by our
sinfulness.  No one is holy enough to bear God's scrutiny.  No one can, as
it were, build a tower into heaven out of blocks of righteousness  and
have it stand long enough to climb.

And the second fact is that God loves us anyway -  
   indeed God loves us so much that he gave his one and only Son,
   that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

We are of great value to God.
Not because of what we do
but because of who we are.

We are God's creation - created in God's own image - to be friends of God.

And even though every one of us exercises our free will to do things that
God cannot accept, God still reaches out to us and calls us to come to him 
   - not because of our love - our righteousness,
but because of the love
   the righteousness 
       the holiness 
that he has.   
That Christ has.

The door of heaven has been opened to all us alike.

The question is - will we humble ourselves - will we repent with fasting
and tears and mourning and enter into the rest - the peace - that God
freely offers us.

A story.

   When Seymour passed away, God greeted him at the Pearly Gates. 
   "Thou be hungry, Seymour?" saith God. 

   "I could eat," Seymour replied. 

   So God opened a can of tuna and reached for a chunk of rye bread an
   they shared it. While eating this humble meal, Seymour looked down
   into Hell and saw the inhabitants devouring huge steaks, lobsters,
   pheasant pastries and fine wines.   Curious, but deeply trusting,
   Seymour remained quiet. 

   The next day God again invited Seymour to join him for a meal. 
   Again, it was tuna and rye bread.  Once again looking down, Seymour
   could see the denizens of Hell enjoying caviar, champagne, lamb,
   truffles and chocolates.  Still Seymour said nothing. 

   The following day, mealtime arrived another can of tuna was opened.
   Seymour could contain himself.  Meekly, he said: 

   "God, I am grateful to be in heaven with you as a reward for the
   pious, obedient life I led.  But here in heaven all I get to eat is
   tuna and a piece of rye bread and in the Other Place they eat like
   emperors and kings!  Forgive me, O God, but I just don't
   understand."

   God sighed: "Let's be honest, Seymour. For just two people, does it
   pay to cook?" 

Christ wants us to know that we are valuable in his sight.

But there is a big difference between a healthy sense of our own worth in
the eyes of God and the kind of self esteem that is based upon comparing
ourselves to others; the kind of self-evaluation that would bring us -
like Seymour - to think that the good we receive is a reward for the
pious, obedient life we have led.

Today's gospel story is a reminder of this truth.  

It is a reminder that it is not what we have done or failed to do that
justifies us in the eyes of God; a reminder that what pleases God is not
our relative goodness  - a goodness that we measure in comparison to
others - but rather the state of our hearts and whether or not we long
with a deep longing for the mercy of God and for the appearing of the
Lord.
 
Listen again to the introduction to the parable of the Pharisee and the
Tax Collector.  It goes like this:

   To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked
   down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

And then Jesus tells it - saying:

   Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other
   a tax collector. 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.   I fast twice a week
   and give a tenth of all I get."

Now none of us here would ever say such a thing in prayer 
whether it be here under this roof that houses a sanctuary of God - 

Nor would we ever say such a thing at home - or at while at work - or
driving our cars

We wouldn't say it to God, 
   we wouldn't say it to other people, 
       we wouldn't even say it to ourselves.

We, after all, believe in the good news - we believe in the Gospel
and we know better than the Pharisees.

We know how the parable that Jesus tells us today comes out,
we know how Jesus said at the very end of telling the tale

   Fore everyone who exalts himself will be humbled
   and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

And we agree that this is as it should be 
   that people who think that they are better than everyone else are a
   true pain in the neck
       that people who think they can earn their way into heaven are
       terribly misguided
          that people who compare themselves to others are setting
          themselves up  - and others - for trouble..

Thank God for it - thank God we are not like the Pharisee.

Do you see what I am saying?
Do you see the utter irony of it?

Do you understand just how we, whether we want to or not, do in fact
compare ourselves to one another and do - as the Pharisee did - take
comfort from the fact that we are not as foolish,
   not as misguided,
   not as sinful,
   as some other poor foolish, misguided, and sinful persons?

Do you understand just how we - whether we want to or not - do in fact
think about how much more we do for God than some other people???  

It is a human condition 
- this condition of making judgements about ourselves and about others
a condition that is pervasive,
a condition that is - if you pause to think about it for a while - truly
depressing.

In fact judging ourselves better than some persons - if not all persons -
is such a pervasive condition that is one of the things that we need to be
saved from.   It is one of things that demonstrates our need for the
totally undeserved, the totally unearned, grace and love of God.

Back to the parable. 

After the Pharisee has prayed his prayer of thanksgiving to God, 
the tax collector comes up to bat.

He stood at a distance - like all of you who insist on sitting at the back
of the church there.   And he would not even look up to heaven, but he
beat his breast and said: "God have mercy on me, a sinner"

'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

This cry of the tax-collector is the basis of what we now call the Jesus
Prayer - -  the prayer that, in one form or another, is recommended to us
by many in the church of Christ Jesus as a mantra, as a continual refrain,
that we should lift up before God.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner....   

Do it with me...

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of The Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

(Pause)

And so Jesus ends the parable of the tax collector and the pharisee by
saying 

   I tell you, this man, rather than the other went home justified
   before God; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and
   the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

It is hard my friends
it is hard to avoid making judgements about other people.

So the best thing we can do is to be humble.
   And to think not of how we might be better than some others,
       or of how some others might be worse than us,
but rather to think of who we are before God.

   For by grace you have been saved 
   through faith, 
   and this is not from you; 
   it is the gift of God

I still find it hard, my friends, to think that God doesn't judge me
according to my deeds.  

I still find it a challenge to really grasp that God loves me -
regardless.

I still find it difficult, from time to time, to understand the truth that
says "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

But that is the truth.  
And I rejoice in it even though at times I have a hard time accepting it. 

I rejoice because I know that God loves me even more than a parent loves
his or her wayward child,
   and that even as such a parent will welcome home a prodigal child so
   God will welcome us when we long for his coming, when we humble
   ourselves and admit to ourselves - and to God - that we are in need.

When we come before God, our hands are truly empty..  
What can we present to God that God has not given to us to present to him?

We are all poor sinners that God has reached down from on high to save.

Today - as we sing the next hymn and as we pray together
recall the pray of the tax collector and the message of Jesus.

Recall the Gospel deep in your heart - and know that God loves you - a
sinner
   
And that God wants you to come before him and offer to him all of your own
imperfect self. 

That God wants you to come - and to take away your fear - and your anger -
your helplessness - and your  pride - and to heal you and bless you
richly.

Come   - seek mercy - not because you are holy - but because you are not.

Come   - ask to be blessed - not because you deserve it - but because you
do not.

Come   - follow Jesus - not because you are worthy - but because Christ
himself seeks to work in you and through you to heal and make right all
that is wrong.

Blessed be his name - day by day.  Amen.


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

THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Loving God - Father - Maker of us all - there is only one way that we can
come to you... and that way is just as we are.  We thank you for your
invitation - we thank you for your love - we thank you for your astounding
and amazing grace, that grace which gives mercy to sinners such as us -
that grace that lifts up the lowly - even as it brings down the thrones of
those who think they are mighty.  Lord, we come to you... Lord hear our
prayer...

Lord Jesus - we pray to you the prayer of the tax-collector - the prayer
that has received your name.  We pray it with all our hearts.... as well
as with our lips....

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner...
....   Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord, we pray not only for ourselves - but for all our brothers and
sisters in faith, and for all those who are afflicted or oppressed or
hungry or ill or grieving.   We pray for those now we named in our sharing
time - and those whom you place upon our hearts and our lips even now...
....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. 
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

   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:  "When Pain of The World"                        - VU 598


* 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 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 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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