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Sermon and Liturgy for The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:41-47; I Peter 2:19-25 and John 10:1-10
"Coals and Cucumbers, Faith and Fellowship"



READING:  Acts 2:41-47; I Peter 2:19-25 and John 10:1-10
SERMON :  "Coals and Cucumbers, Faith and Fellowship"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-ea04sesm 667883
                  
     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".
     SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

	
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                  (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME
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  Blessed be the Lord our God, maker of heaven and earth!
P  All praise and glory and honour belong unto God for he is
   faithful and sure and abounding in steadfast love.
L  Blessed be Christ Jesus, our risen Saviour.
P  He is our shepherd, the one who laid down his life for his
   sheep.
L  Blessed be the Spirit, who makes us one.
P  By the Spirit of God we approach our God and enter into the
   new and abundant life that has been prepared for us.
L  Let all the people rejoice, for God is good and his steadfast
   love endures forever.


* INTROIT: This Is The Day" (verse 1)                    - VU 412


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of mercy of God of joy - we praise you for your faithfulness
and your love.  We pray, open our eyes to the marvellous evidence
of your presence among us.  Open too our ears to the one who
calls us by name and seeks to lead us in the path of
righteousness.  Indeed, O Lord, link us together in a true and
abiding fellowship of sharing and caring and of prayer and of
devotion.  Work your will within us and through us that we may
bring glory and praise and honour to that name which is above
every name, both in this hour and in all the hours to come.  We
ask it through Christ Jesus, our brother and our Lord.  Amen


HYMN: "Praise To The Lord"                               - VU 835


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS


A READING FROM I Peter 2:19-25
   (NRSV) For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you
   endure pain while suffering unjustly. {20} If you endure when
   you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if
   you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have
   God's approval. {21} For to this you have been called,
   because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example,
   so that you should follow in his steps. {22} "He committed no
   sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." {23} When he was
   abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not
   threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges
   justly. {24} He himself bore our sins in his body on the
   cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for
   righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. {25} For
   you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned
   to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

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


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Simon Says"
Theme:    Following The Right Voice
Object:   None
Source:   Self - Traditional Game

   Today I would like to play a game with you - one that you all
   may know already -- it is Simon Says.   I would like all of
   you to stand up and line up.  Whenever I say, "Simon Says"
   and give you an order - you have to do it -- but if I don't
   say "Simon says" you are not supposed to do it....

   Simon says -- scratch you head......    Simon says lift your
   arm....   Simon says touch your knee.....   Simon says rub
   your belly....   "Cross your arms" (some kids go out).

   Now one of you do it....

   The secret of Simon says is to always follow the right voice
   - and the right words.   Sometimes you follow the wrong voice
   - or do what you are not supposed to do because the voice did
   not tell you to do it - and you are out.
   
   Life is like that too.  Sometimes you do what you are not
   supposed to do -- you follow the wrong voice.  Sometimes when
   someone is teasing someone else, you do it too.  Sometimes
   when someone is going to tell a lie to their parents, you
   tell that lie too.  This is following the wrong voice. 
   Sometimes you do the wrong thing by mistake as well.  At
   those times we feel we may be "out" - we get into trouble -
   we feel bad - others begin to think that we are losers.
   
   Jesus says that his followers know his voice and always
   follow it - but they do not follow the voice of others.  As
   followers of Jesus - whenever we are wondering what the right
   thing to do is - we need to think about what Jesus would say
   about it - and follow that voice - just as in Simon Says we
   only do what Simon says.  The good news is that we make a
   mistake - and do the wrong thing - Jesus calls to us - and
   comes to us - and forgives us.  We may make mistakes - but he
   always gives us another chance - he always loves us.

   LET US PRAY --- Dear Lord God // Help us to listen // for
   your voice // and do what you ask // each and every day //
   so that our light may shine // and your love be known //  
   everywhere we go. // Amen/


*HYMN: "Walk With Me"                                    - VU 649


A READINGS FROM ACTS 2:41-47
   (NRSV)  So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and
   that day about three thousand persons were added. {42} They
   devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship,
   to the breaking of bread and the prayers. {43} Awe came upon
   everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by
   the apostles. {44} All who believed were together and had all
   things in common; {45} they would sell their possessions and
   goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
   {46} Day by day, as they spent much time together in the
   temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad
   and generous hearts, {47} praising God and having the
   goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to
   their number those who were being saved.

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


CHOIR ANTHEM:


A READING FROM JOHN 10:1-10
   (NRSV) (John 10:1-10 NRSV)  "Very truly, I tell you, anyone
   who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by
   another way is a thief and a bandit. {2} The one who enters
   by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. {3} The gatekeeper
   opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He
   calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. {4} When he
   has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the
   sheep follow him because they know his voice. {5} They will
   not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because
   they do not know the voice of strangers." {6} Jesus used this
   figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what
   he was saying to them. {7} So again Jesus said to them, "Very
   truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. {8} All who
   came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not
   listen to them. {9} I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will
   be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. {10}
   The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came
   that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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


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


SERMON: "Coals and Cucumbers, Faith and Fellowship"

       Bless thou, the words of my lips and the
       meditations of our hearts that they be of profit to
       us and acceptable to thee, oh our Rock and our
       Redeemer.  Amen

Today I want to talk to you about devotion - devotion to the
teachings of the apostles, to the fellowship of the church, to
the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

The first thing I want to tell you is this - that without
devotion to these things our life as individuals - and our life
as a church - cannot succeed.

It can't succeed because without devotion to those things God has
given us, we end up adrift - we end up separated from our Lord -
the shepherd of our souls, and swept away by the false teachings
of our world.  
   We loose the strength and the hope that we are supposed to
   have, and our joy, our health, and our strength, quickly
   dissipates.
       We become a people who are lifeless and unattractive and,
       unless we change our ways, unless, by the grace of God, we
       are once again found - we stumble and fall..

The father of all lies tries to tell us - that devotion,
      - that the dedication of ones time and energy to the
      teachings of the apostles,
      - and to the fellowship of the church,
      - and to the breaking of bread and to prayer,
is not really all that important.

He tries to tell us that we can get by with an occasional prayer,
   and that it will not hurt all that much if we don't read and
   learn about the bible,
       and that a person doesn't really have to attend church or
       get involved in Christian groups to be a follower of
       Christ.

This is a lie - and anyone who tells you otherwise is speaking to
you with the voice of Satan. 

The secret of every growing church, and the basis of every
healthy spiritual life, is an overriding commitment to hearing
the word of God and applying it to one's life.

It is a dedication to the health and prosperity - both spiritual
and physical, of one's fellow believers, and the desire to invoke
the presence of God within that community, and within one's own
private prayer life.

I am sure many of you have seen the bumper sticker that says
- the family that prays together, stays together -

We are the family of God 
- and unless we pray - together,
- unless we study and seek the will of God in the word of God - together,
- and unless we share good times and bad times - together,
we will suffer the fate that comes upon those who stay apart,
we will be alone;
and ultimately we will loose our sense of direction; 
our sense of purpose; our faith.

And that is happening and has happened in churches throughout
North America and Europe.  

It is happening in those places where individual happiness is
prized more than righteousness;
   where pursuing material success is held to be important than
   spending time in community
       where golf on Sunday or watching Football or taking the
       kids to a ball game is deemed more important than building
       one's relationship with God 
   where watching TV or going shopping for the weekend is deemed
   more important than sharing with one's brothers and sisters
   the joys and the concerns that we have and praying together
   and sharing together those things which have helped us in
   God's word.

I assume, that despite our parent's advice, that all of us have
played with fire.

We have sat before a fire place or a camp fire,
and watched the coals glowing red and hot.
And all of us know - that if we take a single coal out of the
centre of the fire and place it to one side - it soon turns dull
grey, its bright heat becomes first lukewarm and then cold -
while the rest of the fire continues to burn.

So it is with us.

Separate a person from the Christian community, 
take them away from the place in which the word is proclaimed,
bread is broken,
and prayers uttered,
and soon the light of their faith grows dull,
and the warmth within their souls begins to diminish.

Let no one lie to you!

You can't be a Christian,
at least you can't be an effective Christian, 
a fully alive Christian,
   one who, as Jesus says in today's reading - has life and that
   abundantly,
if you do not listen to the voice of the shepherd who calls you by name,
or if you flee from the sheepfold that he would lead you to for
your own safety.

How can you expect do what is right, 
   how can you expect to experience the blessings of God
       how can you hope to minister to one another the love of
       Christ and feel that love return to you 30, or 60 or 100
       fold,
if you do not turn to Christ and listen to his voice?
if you do not enter the sheepfold with your brothers and sisters?
if you do not pray together and work together and love each other
with the love of Christ?

You can't!  And the evidence of that is all around us.
It is in the people we meet day by day who claim to believe in
and love God - and yet have none of the signs of the abundant
life that Christ promises to all who hear his voice and enter his
sheepfold.

Devotion, Dedication, Commitment --
this is the secret of success in all endeavours,
and in all endeavours that devotion, that dedication, that
commitment is focussed on specific things.

To experience life - and that abundantly - as Christ says we can,
our focus must be on the teachings of the apostles, which are the
teachings of our Lord,
      on the fellowship of the believers,
       on the breaking of bread - the invoking of Christ's
       presence in community,
            and on prayer.

The early church had this focus - 
and the results were tremendous.

As Luke tells us in today's reading -

   "all who believed were together and had all things in
   common, they would sell their possessions and goods and
   distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by
   day, they spent much time together in the temple, they
   broke bread from house to house, and ate their food with
   glad and generous hearts, praising God, and having the
   goodwill of all the people.  And day by day God added to
   their number those who were being saved."

Day by day, God added to their number.

From that first community - came the entire church - 
   a church that survived the stoning of Stephen,
       the persecution of Paul,
          and the destruction of Jerusalem itself.

The early church survived and prospered,
   because the people within it committed themselves to one
   another and to the Lord who brought them together,
              
The early church grew and spread like a fire in dry grass
   because those who believed sought God' presence, and prayed
   for his will to be done in their midst, not just one day a
   week, but each and every day.

I wonder how many of us even pray each and every day?
let alone seek out the fellowship of fellow believers and pray
with them and eat with them on a regular and consistent basis?

I wonder how many of us read the scriptures each day?
or even think about what it is God has said in the past to us?
let alone seek to hear what it is he may be trying to say to us
now - in the midst of our busy routines?

I am sure everyone here is familiar with the expression - "cool
as a cucumber".

   The expression "cool as a cucumber: refers to someone who
   is able to remain calm and collected in the heat of life's
   battles.  The expression actually has its basis in
   scientific fact.  A cucumber lying in the sun on a hot day
   is cooler on the inside than the outside.  In fact the
   centre can be as much as ten degrees cooler that the
   outside.  Even without a thermometer, the temperature can
   be easily detected by the touch.

   But the difference in temperature between the inside and
   the outside can only exist as long as the cucumber is
   attached to the vine.  Once the cucumber is severed, it
   loses its ability to "keep its cool."

Like the cucumber, we can only keep our cool in the midst of
difficult circumstances, we can only thrive in the midst of an
insane world, as long as we remain attached to the vine.

Our vine is the fellowship of fellow believers and its head -
Jesus Christ.  The sap which runs through it is the word of God
and the power unleashed in listening to it and in breaking bread
together and in praying together. 

In the vine we have life.

Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches.  They
   who abide in me and I in them, bear much fruit, but apart
   from me you can do nothing."

Jesus also said - I am the gate for the sheep.  Whoever
   enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out
   and find pasture. 

God has prepared a fold for us,
He has made ready a safe haven for us,
and appointed a faithful shepherd over us.

To enjoy that haven, we need  to listen to voice of our shepherd,
and together, in the company of our fellow believers, follow him.

When we follow him - he will lead us by the still waters, 
and to the green pastures,
and he will keep us safe as we walk through the valley of the
shadow of death
his rod and his staff will comfort us.

And the opposite is also true.

When we fail to follow him,
when we fail to listen to his voice
and join ourselves with the rest of the flock
the waters will not be stilled,
we will experience terror in the valley of the shadow of death,
and our cups will not overflow in the presence of our enemies.

We need,
and all those who claim to believe in God need,
to truly commit ourselves to our Lord and his teachings,
and to one another as brothers and sisters in him
if we are to be as alive as was the church in Jerusalem after the
day of Pentecost.

As we do this, as we pray and break bread together
Christ our Lord will do the rest.
He will make sure our souls are restored,
he will set a table before us in the presence of our enemies
and ensure that we dwell in the house of God forever,

He will do this, for he is the bread of life; 
and the good shepherd; 
the way and the door; 
the resurrection and the life,
the one in whom God was pleased to fully dwell within,
the one in whom God is even now fully revealed for those with
eyes to see and ears to hear.

Praise be unto our God, and to our Lord Jesus Christ - now and
forevermore AMEN


----  Check out George Hartwell's Creative Closings - Easter 4 - Year A 
for a different prayer or meditation with which to conclude the sermon 
and/or lead into the prayer time below.



PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
Lord... -- settle our hearts and our minds - lift from us our
burdens - and hear our prayers for our family, our friends, our
world, and for ourselves.  We especially remember this morning:

   - intercessions as gathered in sharing time

Gracious God, enable us on this day to put away the things that
hurt and accept anew the things that help all people of faith. 
Be with us in your love that we may be your children, at one with
all those who hear your voice and who follow in your way.  Renew
us with life that is full of joy, assured by the presence of a
Saviour who knows our lot and cares for us deeply....  Lord hear
our prayer...

O God, we pray that we may never forsake the means of grace that
you have granted to us -- keep us true to the way of prayer - to
the reading of scripture - and to the practice of gathering in
your name.  Build in us, and in your people everywhere devotion
to the teachings of the Apostles, and lead us to so live our
lives that your light may shine through us and draw those around
us closer to you.  Bless this congregation of your people that it
may be a blessing in the world around us - this, and every day. 
Lord hear our prayer...

We ask all these things - and we give you our deepest and most
profound thanks through Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour - who
taught us to call upon as one family saying... OUR FATHER.


* HYMN:  "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Give Thanks"           - VU 179


THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM AND RECEPTION OF MEMBERS
- Introduction and Gathering Together
- Presentation and Statement of Intent
- Profession of Faith and Promises

- The New Creed:
      L   We are not alone, we live in God's world.
      P   We believe in God: who has created and is creating,
             who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, 
             to reconcile and make us new, 
             who works in us and others by the Spirit. 
       We trust in God.
       We are called to be the Church,
             to celebrate God's presence, 
             to live with respect in creation,
             to love and serve others, 
             to seek justice and resist evil, 
             to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, 
             our Judge and our Hope.
       In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. 
       We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

- Blessing of Water 
- Baptism and Presentation
- Statement Regarding New Members
- Receiving New Members
- Prayer
- Exchanging The Peace


* 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

   We thank you, O God for watching over us and for supplying
   our needs according to the abundance of your grace. 
   Receive, we pray, with these tithes and offerings, our
   love and our devotion, and use them and us for the sake of
   your eternal glory and the advancement of your kingdom
   both here and now, and in the world to come.  Amen

  
* HYMN: "Blest Be The Tie That Binds"                    - VU 602


* 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 all the blessings of God go with you; 
may the Spirit lead you, 
the light of the Lord shine on your path, 
and the abiding love of God dwell within you
both now and forevermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1999 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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