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Sermon and Prayers for Ordinary 32 - Year C
Haggai 2:1-9; Psalm 145; Luke 20:27-38
"To See or Not To See - The God of The Living"

READING:  Haggai 2:1-9; Psalm 145; Luke 20:27-38
SERMON :  "To See or Not To See - The God of The Living"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or32sm 635000

     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:   Citations - this sermon is based in large part on a
     sermon for this date by Rev. Dr. Ross Bartlett "A Life Giving
     Faith" (Luke 20:27-38) as found on  "TELOS" in 1992.

	 
CALL TO WORSHIP:(based on Psalm 17:1,6-7)
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 call upon the Lord, for our God will answer me.
P    The Lord will incline his ear towards us and hear our words.
L    The Lord is our saviour.  He protects those who seek refuge in Him.
P    From God comes our vindication.  He delivers us from all evil.


INTROIT: "Spirit of The Living God" (verse 1)                    - VU 376


PRAYER OF APPROACH
Lord, as we gather to worship you we ask that you would guide our hearts
into good works, our minds to worthy plans.  Help us to hear what you
have to say to us in the special places deep within  us.  Help us to
bring forth from the faith we have songs of praise and words of
adoration.  Transform  this time for us so that it becomes a time in
which we bless you and one another - make it a time in which we grow
stronger in trust and in faith and in righteousness.  We ask it in Jesus'
name.   Amen


* HYMN: "Come Children, Join To Sing"                            - VU 345


A READING FROM HAGGAI 2:1-9
     (NIV)  On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the
     LORD came through the prophet Haggai: {2} "Speak to Zerubbabel son
     of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the
     high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, {3} 'Who of
     you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look
     to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? {4} But now be
     strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son
     of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the
     land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares
     the LORD Almighty. {5} 'This is what I covenanted with you when you
     came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
     {6} "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will
     once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.
     {7} I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will
     come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD
     Almighty. {8} 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares
     the LORD Almighty. {9} 'The glory of this present house will be
     greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty.
     'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty."

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


* HYMN:   "Now The Green Blade Rises"                            - VU 186


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 145 (Voices United 866)
-- A psalm concerning the greatness and the goodness of God.


A READING FROM LUKE 20:27-38
     (NIV)  Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came
     to Jesus with a question. {28} "Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote
     for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no
     children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his
     brother. {29} Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a
     woman and died childless. {30} The second {31} and then the third
     married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no
     children. {32} Finally, the woman died too. {33} Now then, at the
     resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to
     her?" {34} Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are
     given in marriage. {35} But those who are considered worthy of
     taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will
     neither marry nor be given in marriage, {36} and they can no longer
     die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since
     they are children of the resurrection. {37} But in the account of
     the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the
     Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of
     Jacob.' {38} He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for
     to him all are alive."

L    The gospel of our Risen Lord.
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ


HYMN: "All The Way My Saviour Leads Me"                          - VU 635


SERMON:  "TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE - THE GOD OF THE LIVING"

     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.

There is An Italian legend about a master and servant.  

     It seems the servant was  not very smart and the master used to
     get very exasperated with him.  Finally, one day, in a fit of
     temper, the master said: "You really are the stupidest man I
     know.  Here, I want you to carry this staff wherever you go. 
     And if you ever meet a person stupider than yourself, give them
     this staff."  

     So time went by, and often in the marketplace the servant would
     encounter some pretty stupid people, but he never found someone
     appropriate for the staff.  Years later, he returned to his
     master's home.  He was shown into his master's bedroom, for the
     man was quite sick and in bed.  In the course of their
     conversation the master said: "I'm going on a journey soon."  

     "When will you return?", asked the servant.
           
     "This is a journey from which I will not return." the master
     replied,

     The servant asked: "Have you made all the necessary  arrangements?"  

     "No, I guess I have not."  

     "Well, could you have made all the arrangements?"  
     
     "Oh yes, I guess I've had time.  I've had all my life.  But I've
     been busy with other things."  

     The servant said: "Let me be sure about this.  You're going on
     a journey, from which you will never return, and you've had all
     your life to make the arrangements, but you haven't."
	 
     The master said: "Yes, I guess that's right."  

     The servant replied: "Master, take this staff.  For at last I
     have truly found a man stupider than myself."
 
Just a story - perhaps.  Or perhaps it is more.  Perhaps it describes the 
way in which we live, many of us, refusing to look on the one journey
that faces us all.  There may be good reason for that.  

A famous theologian, confronted by an eager young seminary student to say
a few words about the resurrection of the dead, refused.  

     "I can't talk about the resurrection with anyone under the age
     of 30.  Before 30 what do you know of honest-to-God failure,
     real heartbreak, mortality, solid defeat?  So what can you know
     of a dark world which only makes sense if Jesus Christ is
     raised?"  

Sure, we could argue about the accuracy of choosing age 30, but the
larger point remains. Unless we have experienced something of the world's
darkness, then the light which shines in the darkness is never going to
make any sense.  

As a friend of mine said recently: "It was not until I had been a patient
in a  hospital for a month while the best of medical science played
Sherlock Holmes over my body that I understood - down here where life
gets real - what that fear and uncertainty and awful waiting is all
about." 
 
Maybe some questions shouldn't be asked unless we're starving for an 
answer.

The Sadducees who approach Jesus don't want an answer - they want to play 
theological tennis with the question, to throw a question up and bat it
around a bit.  

I love academic debate.  But it's not the route of people starving for an
answer.  This is not a text about marriage; it's a question about the
resurrection and Jesus' answer seems particularly flat.  Like he's having
an off day.  

Other people got better answers to this resurrection question 
- but then they were asking from a very different place in life.  

To Martha, weeping for her brother, Jesus said "I am the resurrection and
the life".  
          
To Mary, weeping outside the tomb on Easter Sunday, the answer came in
the form of her name spoken from the other side of death.  

Ask the question with tears in our eyes, 
ask it in a hospital room or a nursing home, 
ask it in those long hours of the night 
     after a difficult verdict has been given 
and we may hear our own name in answer as well.  

But if we ask it, as the Sadducees do, in a comfy, secure, brightly lit
religious building where we imagine everything is under control, we get
something that sends us away scratching our heads.
 
The Sadducees come to Jesus with their convictions.  There's nothing
wrong with convictions.  But they can cause blindness - they can prevent
us from seeing what others see.

The Sadducees were very conservative theologically.  They only accepted
the first five books of the bible - the ones everyone thought Moses
wrote.  For the Sadducees that was the extent of the bible.  And since
nowhere in those five books is resurrection mentioned - they believed
that the resurrection couldn't be  real.  That's conviction number one.  

Conviction number two that they came to Jesus with was that, if there is
a heaven, an eternity, a resurrection, then it has to be just like this
life.  What you see is what we get - for eternity.  
 
So they put together this peculiar, but marginally plausible, story about
a woman and seven brothers.  For you see, tucked away in the corner of
Moses' law, in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, is the idea that if a man died
childless it was up to his brothers to create children with his widow.  

All the evidence suggests that this law, which is known as the law of
levirate marriage, wasn't even practised in Jesus' day.  But here's a
nice little theological conundrum the Sadducees can pose.  Maybe  they
even think it's funny.  It's a ludicrous situation - designed to show
everyone who was listening to them question  that a halfways intelligent
God couldn't dream up something like eternal life if it could result in a
mess like this.
 
It didn't strike Jesus as funny.  
Maybe it leaves a sour taste in your mouth too.  

Jesus' response is to turn the issue around.  The Sadducees have been
evaluating eternal life on the basis of earthly life.  He tells them that
all those social and legal and relational arrangements which can be so
good and necessary and wonderful here, remain here.  The structures of
"this age" will be superfluous in "that age - in the resurrection of the
dead".
 
So is eternal life so absolutely different 
that we can't do anything to get ready?  

Not quite.  Remember the servant and the master.  It is a journey which
we will all face.  It is a journey for which we can prepare - although we
are often reluctant to do so.  

In preparing for this sermon I thought about all the funerals I have
conducted.  The subjects of the those funerals ranged from barely one
year old to 96 years old.  There have been men, women and children.  Most
died from so-called "natural causes" but I have had my share of
Accidents, murders, suicides  and so on.  Some funerals were attended by
hundreds, some by only four or five.  One was even covered by the media
from coast to coast, another - only the funeral director seemed to know
about.  

The point, of course, is that death is no respecter of age or status. 
You know that and I know that but we often live as if we were blissfully
ignorant of it.  What can we do?  

Here are some really practical suggestions.

Have you got a driver's license?  Sign the donor card.  You won't need
any part of your body where you're going but someone here might.  It is
the last desperate act of human selfishness not to give that gift.  
          
Have you talked to your doctor and your loved ones about what heroic
measures if any, are to be taken in event of serious illness?  This is a
deeply personal decision, to be made individually, but don't leave it to
your kids or your doctor outside the Intensive Care Unit to decide. 
Think about it.  Talk about it.  

Pre-arrange your funeral.  Too many times I  have heard the plaintive "we
don't know what so-and-so would have wanted". 

Have you a will and is it up to date?  Or is your family going to get
into a real mess because you haven't wanted to think about things ahead
of time?

Several things you can do.  Simple things - some of them.  Things I'd be
willing to help anyone through.  Please, for the  sake of those you love,
don't leave the preparations for others to make.
 
But that's only one aspect of the preparations we can make 
- having to do with those thing we leave behind.  
What about being prepared for that which is to come?  

I'm sure that the Sadducees were convinced that they had hard-headed
common-sense on their side when they rejected the pie in the sky when we
die by and by notion of eternal life.  Better to stand tough and face the
harsh truth that this is all there is.  

But that is a position of faith just as surely as the one Jesus advances.
 
Opposite to the view that this is all there is - that history is nothing
but a row of tombstones - Jesus places another vision.  He says we'll be
transfigured.  That everything - our life, our relationships, even the
very world itself - will be changed - as Paul puts it - in a twinkling of
an eye..

How will all things be changed?  And Into what?  Neither Jesus, nor Paul,
says.  

Jesus does says that the transfigured life will be like  that of angels -
but to say it is like something implies it is also unlike.  

In the end Jesus settles for saying that we will be the children of God.
That's based on a few clear ideas.

First, history is going some place.  Not just round and round.  
There is a beginning and an ending.  

The words of the bible are theological and religious, not historical and
scientific, but the message is plain: there is a beginning, a present,
and a consummation.  

And God is more than just a great engineer who set it all going and then
walked away.

The clear reason that we were made - was to be friends with God.  

There's lots that gets in the way of that but that's our purpose,
to be God's friends
     - now in this world 
     - and forever in the world of the resurrection, in a world,a state,
     a condition, which includes those most have viewed as long dead -
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Sarah, Leah, Rachael, Rebecca
my friend Terry - our sister - Mabel - our brother - Alonzo.

As Jesus said - God is not God of the dead, but of the living 
- to him all of them are alive.

Are you willing to the friend of God - to go where God wants you to go?
Are you willing to begin the process of being changed - of being
transfigured - here and now?
Are you willing to let go of the brief and transitory things of this
world for the sake of drawing closer to God?

The Sadducees showed in their question to Jesus that they wanted an
eternity as close to earthly life as possible - and of course it is
ridiculous.  As ridiculous and unappealing as sitting around on a cloud
strumming a harp for all eternity.  Jesus tries to blow the doors off
that.  

Whatever the resurrection is, it is utterly other than anything we have
known.  But, at its centre is the One we have always known, however
dimly. 

When John Owen, the great Puritan pastor and teacher lay dying, he was
dictating some last letters to friends.  He said to his secretary: 

     "Write, I am still in the land of the living."  Then he stopped
     and said: "No, change that to read - I am still in the land of
     those who die, but I hope soon to be in the land of the
     living."  

That is where what is real, what is love, will be lifted into the light 
and all relationships and all faces will be transfigured for the children
of God.  

In that transfigurement we will at last become the living.  

To be ready for the journey, for that reality - that life - Jesus tells
us that all we need to have is faith, and that all we need to do is to
try to live by faith.  

May the God of the living - the God of Christ Jesus - be praised now and
evermore.  Amen.

Blessed be God, day by day, Amen.


PRAYER TIME AND THE LORD'S PRAYER 
Let us pray....  God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob - we confess to you
that we are frequently slow to believe what you have promised through
your prophets and in your Son Jesus.  We succumb to fears of death as if
it were the end of everything - and all too often we live as if there is
nothing to live for beyond death.  Forgive us Lord - forgive us our
doubts, our disbelief, and our deafness to the witness of other
believers, and our silence when we could give witness to the faith which
we have...  Lord hear our prayer.

Lord of mercy, God of the living, grant that we might see beyond the
ruins that lie about us - that we  might take to heart the lessons of
Scripture which testify to your willingness and ability to bring new life
to dry bones.  Give to those who despair a vision of the resurrection
which awaits all those who believe - all those you have chosen.  Help
them to order their lives by the principles of your everlasting kingdom -
that kingdom in which faith, hope and love transfigure all that they
touch...  Lord hear our prayer... 

Father - help us be a people who are prepared for the journey which lies
ahead - take from us all evil desire - remove from us any refusal we have
to forgive others - lift from us any reluctance we have to love our
enemies and to bless, in your name, those who curse us.  Send unto us the
desire to love one another as Jesus loves us - the yearning to bring your
saving word to those who hunger - the longing  to reach out and touch
another person with your love and to speak to others - and to ourselves -
your  truth.  Help us to be ones who are prepared - help us  to be ones
who live Christ-like lives --- Lord hear our prayer.

We ask all these things not in our name, but in the name of Jesus Christ
- he who taught us to pray to you for ourselves and for the coming of
your kingdom saying: "OUR FATHER...


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: The Offering and Doxology: "We Give Thee But
Thine Own" (Red 296) and Prayer of Dedication

     We pray thee, O God, to receive and bless these our tithes and
     offerings.  Grant that they and we may be used in your saving and
     healing work - and so bring to our world ever greater hope and to
     you ever greater praise and glory.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* HYMN:  "The Lord's My Shepherd"                                - VU 747


* 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 
- and may God the Father who created the universe create in you an
abiding faith; 
- may God the Son, who gave sight to the blind give to you the clear
vision of his kingdom 
- and may God the Holy Spirit who intercedes for the saints with sighs
too deep for words, lift you into God's presence,
both today and tomorrow - and indeed forever and ever.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                             - VU 964

	 
copyright	- Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks 1995 - 2006
              - Rev. Ross Bartlett 1992
		please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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