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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 31 - Year A
Joshua 3:7-17; I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
(with All Saints themes)
"Crossing Into The Promised Land"

READING: Joshua 3:7-17; I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12 SERMON : "Crossing Into The Promised Land" Rev. Richard J. Fairchild a-or31sn 696000 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) * ENTRANCE & CANDLE LIGHTING * WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP (based on Psalm 107:8-9) 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 Praise the Lord for his love P Give thanks to God for the wonderful things he has done. L To everyone who is thirsty he gives something to drink P To all who hunger he gives good things to eat. * INTROIT: "This Is The Day" (VU-412 verse 1) * PRAYER OF INVOCATION: Loving God - meet us here and make your word live in us. Remind us, O Lord, of the cloud of witnesses that surround us and help us to follow their example. Help us to lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Make us, like all the saints before us - a people who are eager to share your love with those that are far off and those that are near. Guide us, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit as we worship and serve you -- both in this hour, and in all the hours to come. We ask it in the name of Christ Jesus - our brother and our Lord. Amen. * HYMN: "Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God" - VU 356 ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS Announcements Gathering in of Prayer Joys and Concerns CHILDREN'S TIME: "All Hallow's Eve" Theme: Giving Thanks For the Saints Object: Halloween Mask, Box with Mirror In It Source: Self Good morning. (Put on MASK) What does this remind you of....??? Halloween -- does anyone know where the name for Halloween comes from???? All Hallows Eve is the night before All Saints Day. For many years All Saints Day has been a Day that the church set aside to remember all the saints and to ask God to bless them. Does anyone know what a Saint is???? If you don't, I captured one - and put it here in this box. (MIRROR IN A BOX). I would like each of you in turn to take a look - But don't tell anyone what you see - at least not yet... A saint is a person who believes in Jesus and follows him each day. As the rest of you are looking in the box, I would like to ask you to name some other saints you know ... On All Saints Day we remember all the saints - and pray to God in thanksgiving about them and for them. Traditionally special remembrance is paid to the famous and not so famous martyrs of times long past and to those who have died in the past year. Each life offered up in remembrance calls to mind qualities of life worth imitating as well as some worth avoiding. Over all - it is a time in which we recall how we were and how we still are connected to one another in and through the love of God. At this time I am going to lead us in prayer - and at a special moment which you will know when it comes - instead of repeating after me - I would like you to name names of those who are special to you and whom you wish to thank God for and to remember in your prayers at this time. ** PRAYING FOR THE SAINTS ** God of the ages: We praise you for all your servants who have done justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with you. We praise you O God for all apostles and martyrs and saints of every time and place, who in life and death have witnessed to your truth and love. We praise you, O God for all those who answered your call to preach the Good News of the Gospel and to administer your Sacraments of grace and love, and for those who devoted their lives to teaching your Word and sharing the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures with others whether it be at home or in foreign lands..., We praise you, O God for those who showed compassion to the least, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and offering mercy and forgiveness to those who have gone astray. We praise you, O Go for those who were willing to lose their lives in service to others, caring for the sick, comforting the dying, visiting the lonely, consoling those in grief, We praise you, O God, and we especially honor the memory of those individuals of this congregation who have lived among us and shared their faith in personal ways, who have finished the race and now reign on high with you. In addition O God, we honor the memory of those who have graced our lives at other times and in other ways - those whose names we lift up before you in our hearts now. In particular, we lift up before you with gratitude and thanksgiving: Ivan Phillips... etc Hear our prayers, O God, for others we name before you both in our hearts and aloud.... For all the saints from whom their labours rest, we praise you, O God. We praise you and we thank you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. * HYMN: "For All The Saints" - VU 705 A READING FROM JOSHUA 3:7-17 (NRSV) The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. {8} You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" {9} Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God." {10} Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: {11} the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. {12} So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. {13} When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap." {14} When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. {15} Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, {16} the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. {17} While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. L This is the word of the Lord. P Thanks be to God. CHOIR ANTHEM A READING FROM I THESSALONIANS 2:9-13 (NRSV) You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. {10} You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. {11} As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, {12} urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. {13} We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. L This is the word of the Lord. P Thanks be to God. * HYMN: "Faith Of Our Fathers" - VU 580 A READING FROM MATTHEW 23:1-12 (NRSV) Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, {2} "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; {3} therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. {4} They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. {5} They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. {6} They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, {7} and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. {8} But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. {9} And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven. {10} Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. {11} The greatest among you will be your servant. {12} All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. L This is the gospel of our Risen Lord. P Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ. SERMON: "Crossing Into The Promised Land" Let us Pray - Creator and maker of us all - bless the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts - grow thou in us and show us your ways and inspire us to live by your truth. Amen Promised Land - across and through the Jordan - think of this in terms of metaphor - through death into the eternal realms of God - into heaven - to the place where the saints dwell forever - to the place where death is no more.... But crossing the River into the Promised Land was not always seen as a Metaphor for dying/rising Rather - at the time of Moses - the time of Joshua - from whose book we read today, the Promised Land was a real place - a place in which the people looked forward to living now - - It was a place where the land flowed with milk and honey // where the people could not only cry "Free At Last - Free at Last" -- but also cry - At home at last - At home where God promised he would lead us -- in the place which God promised he would give us. - the Promised Land is the rich and abundant land God promised to Abraham - and to his children after him - the place promised to Isaac and to Jacob - the place of which Moses spoke as he led his people out of Egypt. It is the rich and abundant life promised by Christ to all his followers. The Promised Land was - and is a real place -- located in our space - and our time. As Caleb and the others who spied out this land for Moses - reported -- it not only was a rich land - a blessed land - but it also was a land so real - so good - that others occupied it -- it was a place of cities and of towns - of warriors and giants -- not all of whom would prove to be friendly -- but all of whom - with God's help - would be overcome -- that the people might truly be blessed in their occupation of that land. All of us long for this kind of land - this kind of place - this kind of life -- where our enemies are overcome by the power of God - and where our needs are met with unheard of abundance - where the fear and the awe of the wilderness in which we wander is replaced by the joy and the celebration of life lived in a place like unto Eden itself. And God promises to us - as he promised to the children of Israel - just such a place. Just such a way of life. And as he did with the children of Israel - he guides us through the wilderness towards it - he leads us to the very edge of the place -- and shows us the way to enter into it. Today, in the third chapter of the book of Joshua we see the final stage of the people's wandering in the wilderness - the stage where they are finally called into the promised land -- we see them cross through the Jordan and into the land of promise. The details of the story are instructive for our own entering into the land - the state of being - that God has promised to us in Christ Jesus. First must understand about the River Jordan - the largest river in the region -- no bridges across it -- the Kings highway from Egypt to the Euphrates, from the land of the Pharaohs to the land of Assyria and of Babylon never crossed the river - but ran along side it - - it is normally a murky river - slow moving and muddy - even so it can be easily crossed at certain places - that is if you don't mind stepping into a river whose bottom you can't easily see, if you don't mind getting the feet wet, and much more.... Crossing a river, even when you have a bridge, represents a big event in life. Rivers epitomize a big obstacle in the itch to be mobile. Indeed the symbol of crossing the river flows deeply in our faith history. Sometimes, the symbol of the river means a roadblock. As it most surely meant to the people of Israel on the day appointed for them to cross the Jordan. It is one thing to put your feet in a gentle stream and another to step into roaring flood waters. Which, according to verse 15, is what the Jordan was like the day the people crossed over it. Not only was the river in flood - but - according to verse 4 of today's passage, the people are not familiar with the place where they are about to cross the river - they have not been there before - they do not know what it will be like. Joshua and the leaders of the people tell the people that they are to enter the promised land by following the priests (who carry the ark of the Covenant - the sign and symbol of God's presence with them - into the river) and that the river will part for them to make their passage through it possible. I think it is very significant that one has to step into the roaring waters before they are parted, rather than waiting for them to first be parted. Very significant indeed. It was when the soles of the feet of those bearing the ark touch the water that the waters part. Not before. In verse 15 through 17 we hear the conclusion of the matter: "As soon as the feet of the priests touched the water, the river stopped flowing, and the water started piling up at the town of Adam near Zarethan. No water flowed toward the Dead sea, and the priests stood in the middle of the dry riverbed near Jericho while everyone else crossed over." In the faith journey, there comes times when it looks like you are backed up against a barrier, a river at flood stage. The promised land is on the other side of the raging river. As followers of Christ, as a people whom have been promised a new land, a new life, we are called to step out in faith - before the circumstances seem to be ready - that we may enter into that land - that we experience that life. We called to cross the river, to enter the turbulent and muddy flood waters so that we may receive the fullness of what God has promised to us and to those who follow us. It can be a frightening proposition.... But we - like the people of Israel - have God with us. And as we step forth - carrying God with us - as we hold in our hearts the precious name of God - as we trust in God's living presence even though the circumstances do not appear to favour us - the waters will part. What today's story tells us - with it's mention of how the priests led the way for the people into the river - is that God goes before us into the flood waters of life. God stands in the middle of the murderous waters, and God watches us pass safely to the other side. The story is one of salvation. It affirms that God loves you and will not let anything stand in the way of his divine love and salvation for you. The hymn "HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION" sings this faith in verse 3: "When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be near thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress." Fear not my friends - take the plunge - step out in faith - get your feet wet -- and God will bring you safe to the other side of the Jordan, to the land and to the life that he has promised to all who follow him. This is the message of the Gospel that we proclaim. As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica this message is not a human word, rather it is God's word - able to work in those who believe. Trust in it. Trust in God - and step forward - and God will make straight your path and bring you into the promised land. Blessed be the name of God - now and forever. Amen (A second draft of this sermon can be found at a-or31su.html) * HYMN: "How Firm A Foundation" - VU 660 PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER Lord, when we are frightened by the waters and the promised land seems so far away, grant us the courage to march straight ahead in the way you have told us to go. Help us to enter into the raging river in the confidence that you are with us and that you will cause the waters to part and allow us through safe to the other side. Lord hear our prayer.... Hear our prayers, O God, this day, for all those situations in our lives's that are conspiring together to prevent us from experiencing the fullness of the life that Jesus came to bring us. Hear not only our prayers for ourselves - but for those people in the world who are suffering this day because of the sin of this world -- for the children of Rwanda who hunger, the believers in India and Asia who are persecuted, the citizens of Palestine and Pakistan - and in all the spots in this world where human hatred and greed destroys.... Lord hear our prayer.... We have prayed earlier, O Lord, for the saints known to us who have before us to the promised land. We pray now for those who are still on this side of the Jordan - for those named aloud in our sharing time - and for those whom we name in our hearts at this time.... - for Leonard and Betty - and for Brenda and Gil - your healing touch and your holy comfort.... Lord Hear our Prayer... - for those others named by the congregation - Bring us all O God, safe to the other side - we ask it through Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour - he who entered death on our behalf and rose from the dead as the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep - he who taught us to pray to you with a holy confidence and a secure faith saying, "Our Father...." * 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 Loving God, we thank you for the grace that you pour out upon us and for the faith that you call us to live each day. We praise you for the gifts you give us - the land you grant to us, the manna by which you feed us. Receive, O Lord, these our tithes and offerings, held before you with grateful hearts in obedience to your holy command. Receive them - and all our intentions and actions - making them perfectly thine through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus our Saviour and our Lord. Amen * HYMN: "Amazing Grace" - VU 266 This song was asked for as the last song last Sunday afternoon when Potter's Clay shared their ministry of music. It serves well today as our last song - as we recall the message of the gospel - that is by grace, not works, that we are saved. As the scriptures proclaim, so let us sing, "Amazing Grace" * 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 may the presence of God, the one who opens before us a new heaven and a new earth bless you and yours - may he guide you and your family to the promised land and strengthen you and all the saints to enter therein this both now and forevermore Amen * THREEFOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace" - VU 964 copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1999 - 2005 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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