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Sermon and Liturgy for The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Year C
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
"The Love Test"


READING:  Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
SERMON :  "The Love Test"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or04sn.y-c 765000

   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.
   
   Sources: As cited in text.  The children's story is based on that
   of Eldon Weisheit, God's Promises For Children - Series C,
   Augsburg, 1982.

   
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                          (* = please stand)


* CALL TO WORSHIP (based on I John 4:7-17)
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  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. 
P  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
L  God's love was revealed among us in this way - 
   God sent his only Son into the world 
   so that we might live through him. 
P  If we love one another, God lives in us
   and his love is perfected in us.
L  God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, 
   and God abides in them.
P  Love has been perfected among us in this - 
   because as he is, so are we in this world.


* INTROIT: "What Does The Lord Require of You"                   - VU 701


LET US PRAY
Eternal God, we gather to give you praise and thanksgiving for the
wondrous gift of Jesus the Christ - who proved the fullness of your love
in his walk among us.  Receive the worship we bring as an expression of
our love for you and touch our hearts that we may grow in love towards
one another.  Spur us on with your Word and your Spirit, and help us to
abide in you as you abide in us -  we ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


* HYMN  "Come, Let Us Sing of A Wonderful Love                   - VU 574


A READING FROM JEREMIAH 1:4-10
   (NIV)  The word of the LORD came to me, saying, {5} "Before I formed
   you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I
   appointed you as a prophet to the nations." {6} "Ah, Sovereign LORD,"
   I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." {7} But the
   LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to
   everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. {8} Do not be
   afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the
   LORD. {9} Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and
   said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. {10} See, today
   I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to
   destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

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


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Perfect For The Job"
Theme     Everybody Is Suited for An Important Ministry
Source    based on Eldon Weisheit, God's Promises For Children - Series
          C, Augsburg, 1982.
Object    Three different size boxes with contents for showing love

Good morning -- In our bible reading this morning God tells Jeremiah - "I
chose you before I gave you life and before you were born to be a prophet
to the nations."  God chose Jeremiah for an important job - he chose him
to give a special message to the nations.

Jeremiah thought God had made a mistake.  He said - "God, I don't know
how to speak well enough.  I am too young."  Jeremiah wasn't a child, he
was a young man - but he thought he wasn't old enough for the job.

Do you ever feel that you not very important because you are young? 
Because you are small??  Do you ever feel that you are not good enough to
do a special job that someone wants you to do???  Or does anyone ever 
told you that???

It is pretty common for people to think that we can't do some things -
and sometimes we can't - but that doesn't mean that we don't have a very
special place in God's plan - just like Jeremiah had a special place in
God's plan - despite what he thought about it.

To understand this a bit better I want you to look at these three
boxes....  If you wanted a box to put a big puzzle into so that you could
give it to someone who loves to do them, which box would you choose.... 
why?  (the others are too small)

If you wanted a box to carry around stickers in - stickers to brighten up
books and papers with - which would you pick?  (you can't get much in the
little one - and the other is too big to carry around)

If you wanted a box to give a necklace or a ring to someone special with
- which would you choose??  (the little one would be just about right).

You see - the biggest is not always the best - and the littlest is not
always the best.  What is best is what does the job best.  The job of
showing God's love.   God doesn't say that old people can show his love
better to other people than young people; or that young people can serve
him better than old people.  God picks each of us for a special job and
each of us is the best one for that job.  God picks each on of to love -
and to do good things for others.  God has a special job for each one of
you - no matter how young you are - or how old you are - no matter how
big or how small.  Each of you is best for something - because God has
made you that way.  You are an important part of God's people - and no
one can replace you.  


* HYMN:  "I've Got Peace Like A River"                           - VU 577


PRAYER AND LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God - we thank you for old people -- and we thank you
   for young people -- we thank you for big people -- and we thank
   you for small people -- and most of all God -- we thank you for
   the special thing -- that each of us can do -- to show your love
   to others.  - 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


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS
- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Joys and Concerns


ANTHEM


A READING FROM 1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-13
   (NIV)  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not
   love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. {2} If I have
   the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
   and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I
   am nothing. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my
   body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. {4} Love is
   patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not
   proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily
   angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in
   evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always
   trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. {8} Love never fails. But
   where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues,
   they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
   {9} For we know in part and we prophesy in part, {10} but when
   perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. {11} When I was a child,
   I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a
   child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. {12} Now
   we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face
   to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am
   fully known. {13} And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
   But the greatest of these is love.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 71 (Voices United 789 and Refrain)


A READING FROM LUKE 4:21-30
   (NIV) And he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is
   fulfilled in your hearing." {22} All spoke well of him and were
   amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this
   Joseph's son?" they asked. {23} Jesus said to them, "Surely you will
   quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your
   hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" {24} "I tell
   you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his
   hometown. {25} I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in
   Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and
   there was a severe famine throughout the land. {26} Yet Elijah was
   not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of
   Sidon. {27} And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of
   Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the
   Syrian." {28} All the people in the synagogue were furious when they
   heard this. {29} They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him
   to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to
   throw him down the cliff. {30} But he walked right through the crowd
   and went on his way.

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


* HYMN:  "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"                      - VU 333


SERMON:  "The Love Test"

   Lord,  we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and 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 was a kid I remember a time when my mother decided to make up some
chocolate nut fudge or something very tasty like that .  

   She had all these wonderful ingredients assembled on her kitchen
   counter  and all these lovely smells wafted around the room, and
   she was busy whipping something up on the stove.

   I checked it out - and discovered that it was a pan half full of
   this lovely chocolate sauce and so I did what all normal children
   would have done - I asked for a taste.  Mother told me that I
   could have some when it was ready - but I of course put on a sad
   little face and said, just a little taste please.  She then told
   me I wouldn't like it   but I didn't believe her - I mean what was
   there not to like - lovely chocolate sauce - just a little
   spoonful - and so, relenting, she gave me a taste.

   It was awful.  It was bitter.  It wasn't like chocolate at all. 
   Yet it looked like chocolate and my mother assured me, as she
   laughed at my puckered up face - that it was all chocolate and
   nothing but chocolate.

And that was the problem with it   it was nothing but chocolate.  It
lacked something very essential to make it taste really good - it lacked
sugar.

You ever had that happen to you?  Have you ever taken a nice big bite out
of a chunk of chocolate  - and discovered - phhhh   it really is nothing
but chocolate?

Well - if you have - you know something about the church in the wild and
wacky city of Corinth was like some 2000 years ago when Paul wrote the
letter to them that we have been reading from over the last couple of
weeks.

Most of the believers in Corinth were extremely excited about their
faith,
   there were people with tremendous gifts in the community
   there were teachers and healers and those who could speak in tongues
   there were those who could lead in worship and there were preachers 
   and there were those who had the ministry of helps 
   and others who could prophecy
and the word of God was proclaimed every day
   and folk prayed 
   and the gospel message itself was wonderful 
   - the word that said that Jesus had Risen from the Dead and that all
   who believed in him would receive forgiveness for their sins and live
   eternally in his heavenly kingdom with him
everything you needed for a vital church was happening in their midst - 
but for one thing!

The church failed the taste test.
It didn't have enough sugar in it
It didn't have enough love in it.

The thirteenth chapter of Corinthians is probably the favourite wedding
text of all time.  I think every wedding couple in the Christian world
has it read during the wedding ceremony - and with good reason - it is a
wonderful chapter.

But when Paul wrote it - he wasn't thinking a whole lot about weddings 
nor was he even really trying to describe what love is like - though he
does do that - rather he was trying to show the Corinthians that, in the
end, nothing matters more than the answer to the question -  are you
living out the love of Christ?

Love - the kind of love that God has for us - is the yardstick, measure,
and norm, of our faith.

And the folk in Corinth seemed a little lacking in something in the love
department,
- despite  all the wonderful things that were going in their midst,
- despite  all the spiritual wisdom that seemed to be around the place,
- despite all the faith that folk claimed to have.

There were some strange things going on 
- like the man who was sleeping with his step-mother and the two elders
who had dragged each other off to court instead of making peace with one
another;
    - and some folk really didn't behave all that well at the meals that
   they held in memory of Jesus: some ate too much, some drank too much,
   and others went hungry; 
       - and then too - and this was very troubling -  there were public
       disagreements about which of the apostles and teachers who had
       come to Corinth were the best - and which were worst;
- and there were some folk who believed that their contribution to the
community of faith was more significant than the contributions being made
by others - and that their views on things should be considered first
because of that, 
   - while others felt like they weren't important to God or the church
   at all because they didn't have the gifts, or the talents, or the
   wealth to offer that they thought they should have.

In short people in Corinth were, at times rude to one another, impatient,
arrogant, greedy, selfish, egotistical, and unkind.  This even though
they had otherwise displayed some very wonderful spiritual gifts - this
even though people were healed at their meetings, and the word of God was
proclaimed, and people were clothed and fed and prayed for.

It is a hard word to hear at times this word from I Corinthians
concerning love.

Think of what it says 

It doesn't matter if you have faith enough to say to a mountain - move -
and it moves -if you have not love - you are nothing.

It doesn't matter if you can speak out for God - if you know all
mysteries - and can heal all diseases - and do so - if have not love - it
avails you not.

You have heard it before my friends - probably from every preacher,
pastor, or priest you've ever listened to   but hear it again - and
hopefully - hear it fresh.

Love is the test of our faith.  Folks know we are Christians by our love
and they know that we are something less than fully Christian - by our
lack of it.

What is love besides the being the touchstone of our attitudes and
actions?

Well, love involves seeking the highest good for God's creation.  
God first - neighbour second, and self last. 
   Love is being more interested in the well being of others than our
   own.  
       It is seeing everyone through the lens of Christ and treating them
       as Christ has treated us.

Bill Clinton is now a part of American History.   But I recall how so
many people failed the love test over the matter of his alleged affair or
affairs.

On TV   Jay Leno - whom I used to like - indulged in week after week of
       extremely tasteless jokes - rejoicing in wrong, and encouraging us
       to do so as well.  But then Leno doesn't pretend to a faith in
       Christ.
      
On the Internet however, in those forums where Priests and Pastors and
those interested in building up the body of Christ gather, there were
numerous notes exchanged that also condemned Bill Clinton for what he may
or may not have done -  some of those note focussed on how the President
had not lived up to his profession of faith - others simply focussed on
his alleged immorality and suggested he should not be in politics.  

In all those exchanges there was a failure of love - a failure that
undermined the value of all the wonderful gifts that those lay persons
and priests and pastors most surely bring to their churches and
congregations....  

Quite simply they were "not rejoicing in the right" but "rejoicing - or
at the very least REVELLING in the wrong - a wagging of tongues that dID
not fulfill any of the Biblical  commands to pray for those in authority
- or to remove the log in our own eyes before commenting on the speck in
someone else's.  

That behaviour, no matter how well intended it may have been was not 
Christ guided - or Christ centred, and brought shame and division to the
body of Christ - because it lacked love.

This failure of the love test in this matter was not universal of course,
and not even those believers who failed that particular love test, fail
the love test in other matters.

But some of the time is still significant - for them - and for us.

We do fail the test of love some of the time don't we?  
As individuals - and as a church?

And we should be concerned about that 
- we shouldn't take our lapses lightly - should we?

Notice I say "our lapses" - because it is about us - that the love test
is all about.

It is not for me to judge you - or for you to judge me -
rather it is for us to look at ourselves - and ask 
   - am I focussed on Christ our on myself?
   - am I showing the love of God to others  - doing what Jesus would do
   here - and allowing Jesus to  work through me? 
   - or am I allowing my feelings, my frustrations, my needs, my pride,
   my talent, to dominate my interactions with others?
 
LOVE IS THE TEST OF OUR FAITH - 
IT IS THE TEST OF OUR COMMUNITY
AND IT IS THE TEST OF EACH ONE OF OUR LIVES

As I have been saying for a couple of weeks now 
saying to you - and to the children - we, each one of us here
like the Corinthians are incredibly gifted by God  
we have talents and abilities and spiritual gifts that can and do build
up this community.

We have those who sing praise to God and lift all our hearts
   We have those who create art from fabric that make us consider the
   truth and beauty of God
       We have those who learn the Word of God and share it with others -
       gifts of teaching
          and those who are able to administer - and those who bring
          comfort and create joy with food - and get well cards - and
          well timed phone calls.
We have those with the gifts of healing - and of prayer - and of
evangelism - and of service;
      even those with tongues - and those with the gift of special faith.

We are gifted - and too - I think our love quotient is pretty high -
   we hug and we bless one another with a smile when we gather together
        we pray for one another - both in this place and outside
we are concerned - we do care - we do use the gifts we have to build up
the body and not simply to bring glory to ourselves - or so I believe.

But are we there yet?  Have we really reached the zenith of what our
faith says we should be about? Have we managed to fulfill all that Christ
asks of us when we follow him?  Are we fully made over in the image of
Christ and love like he loves?

Let us take the test!

- Do we compare what we do for the church to what others are - or are not
doing?
- Do we ever speak out about how some folk just seem to take up space -
as if somehow the value of what we are doing is greater than what they
are doing?
- Do we ever think some folk here are better than we are - and some
worse?
- Do we call down some of our neighbours and praise up others?
- Do we treat those who are slower than we are with impatience and less
reverence?
- and those who are quicker than us or more well connected than us - with
more reverence?

There is always more growing to do my friends, more growing in faith
and love is the test of just how much growing there is for us to do.

Listen - I want you to put your name into today's passage from I
Corinthians where love is described.  I want you to think about yourself
- and see just how much you agree with it - and just how much more
travelling along the road of spiritual growth and understanding you need
to do...

Listen - this is about you - close your eyes as I read the passage about
what love is like to you.

Love is patient.  Love is kind.....   I am patient.  I am kind.
I am not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude.
I do not insist on my own way.
I am not irritable or resentful.
I do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth.
I bear all things
I believe all things.
I hope all things.
I endure all things.

That is quite something isn't it?
Trying to say all that about yourself once in a while.
And in saying it - trying to avoid the words - "most of the time" or
"almost always" - as in most of the time I am patient and kind 
or - almost always I not rude or resentful.

Now consider Jesus -and how he fits into that picture of what love is
like.

He can help us be like him.

He abides in us   that is what our faith is about - how he is here - in
this world- in this church - in us who believe in him - in my heart and
in yours.

He abides in us - and calls us to abide in him.

And the way we do that - is to be focussed on him and on his example -
to ask ourselves as we open our mouths or move our hands -
is this what Jesus would say?  Is this what Jesus would do.

Your salvation does not depend on how well you do this -
   it does not depend on your having become perfect  
that is the exact opposite of the message of love we proclaim.

But the degree to which we try is critical to the integrity of all that
we believe - it is the essential component of being the church. of truly
being the people of God , of being a people who show his light to the
world and who bring his healing power to the nations.

In the wonderful little book called "Pocketful of Miracles", which is a
daily devotional and spiritual growth guide, the author (Joan Borysenko)
under January 31st, writes:

   Shakespeare said, "Pretend a virtue if you have it not".  Most of
   us are still locked up in the petty, self-centred concerns of our
   egos.  Nonetheless we feel the ancient longing of our soul to move
   beyond ego to union with the divine.  It doesn't matter if our
   motivation for Divine Union falters, or if selfish concerns
   predominate.  If we just pretend the virtue of longing for God and
   being of service to others, eventually those virtues will arise
   spontaneously.  As my husband puts it, "Fake it till you make it."

Don't feel loving 
  do the caring thing anyway;
Don't Feel like being kind 
  say something nice about the person who is being rude to us anyway;
Don't think that someone else's plan will work and that your idea is
better  
  let them do it regardless;
Don't think you can possibly do what God is calling you to do
  start doing it anyway.

Fake it till you make it;
or as Paul puts it 
Earnestly strive for the greater gifts - the greatest of which is love.

Strive for it - and live as if you have it - for in truth you do -
Christ died to bring it to you and to show you what it is like
and he rose from the dead  the third day to show that it's power is
greater than the power of sin.

When you confess Christ as your Lord 
God comes and abides in you and gives you the ability to abide in Him
to abide in his love - one minute, one hour, one day at time.

Turn to God - ask his help to pass the love test - each minute of each
day - ask his help to abide in him as He abides in you.    Amen


* HYMN:  "O Jesus I Have Promised"                               - VU 120


PRAYERS OF THANKSGIVING & INTERCESSION & THE LORD'S PRAYER
We thank you today O God for showing us the nature of love in your love
for us.  We thank you God for loving us when we are unloving; for caring
for us when we are uncaring, and for calling to us when we go far away. 
Help us dear God to love one another in this way... Lord hear our
prayer...

We thank you God for urging us to share.  We thank you for teaching us to
trust and dare.  Help us God to be compassionate and fair.  Help us to
forgive and to be patient and to care...  Lord hear our prayer...

For your people everywhere - the body of Christ - and especially for this
congregation - help us to love those around us as Christ loves us... 
Lord hear our prayer...

For those named in our sharing time this morning - and those upon our
hearts at this moment, for (BIDDING PRAYER)  
- Lord hear our prayer...

We ask these things in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our brother,
and our friend - he who gave himself for us and for our world...  Amen
  

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) & Prayer of
Dedication

   God of love, these gifts we offer; use them for your work on
   earth.  Bless our giving and encourage our loving, for your own
   name's sake.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "To Show By Touch and Word"                   - VU 427


* 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 Christ
- and may the love of God be upon you and within you  
- may the compassion of God flow through you 
- and may the tenderness and the strength of God grace you and the world
in which you dwell 
both now and forevermore.  Amen


* THREE FOLD AMEN & SUNG 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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