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Sermon and Liturgy (2) for Ordinary 21 - Proper 16 - Year C
Hebrews 12:18-29; Psalm 71:1-6; Luke 13:10-17
"That To Which We Have Come"



READING:  Hebrews 12:18-29; Psalm 71:1-6; Luke 13:10-17 
SERMON :  "That To Which We Have Come"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or21su 944000

   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: The children's story is based on Michael Sherer, "Good
   News For Children: Object Lessons On Epistle Texts, Year C"
   Augsburg Press, 1982. Part of the Prayers of the People based on
   John Maynard, (maynard@dcsi.net.au), "Prayers and Litanies for
   Ordinary 21" 2001.   The traditional tale of the Eagle is taken
   from Brett Blair's "Illustrations for Aug 26 2001" and the six
   point quote from Walter Wink and much that follows it is taken from 
   Mickey Anders (mickeya@setel.com) "Sermon on Luke 13:10-17" as sent
   to the PRCL List, August 19, 2001.  Mickey wrote us on Aug 22 2001:
   "Thank you so much for your kind words of affirmation about my
   sermon.  Since I preach at a small congregation, the words of
   encouragement I get from friends on the Internet are very important
   to me.  I am pleased that you found the sermon helpful and were
   able to use some of it.  And yes, I would love it to have some of
   my sermons on your site.  Feel free.  All the best.  Mickey Anders"

 
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)
   
            
* WORDS OF WELCOME & CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on  Hebrews 12:22-24,28)
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  You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, 
       the city of the living God. 
   You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful
   assembly.
   You have come to the church of the firstborn, 
       whose names are written in heaven. 
   You have come to God, the judge of all men
       and  to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, 
       and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word 
       than the blood of Abel. 
   Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, 
   let us be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe.


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God - we are glad to be here this day.  We come knowing that your
desire for us is good - that your will for us is perfect - that your love
for us is cleansing and healing.  Lord, consume the dross that clings to
us - forgive our sins - and bring us closer to you and to one another
through Christ Jesus.   Hear our prayer and our song - and speak a word to
us - as we lift you up in our hearts and render you the glory and honour
you deserve.  Bless us as we bless you this day - we ask it through Christ
Jesus our Lord and Saviour.  Amen


* HYMN:  "I Need Thee Every Hour"                                  - VU 671


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Not Fearful, But Cheerful"
Theme     God's Presence is Good
Object    Candle Flame
Source:   based on Michael Sherer, "Good News For Children: Object
          Lessons On Epistle Texts, Year C" Augsburg Press, 1982.

Good morning.   How many of remember when you were very small being afraid
of lightening?   Maybe some of you still are???    Why does lightening
frighten people???   (Loud noise, heat, fire, dangerous - can start forest
fires like those down by Invermere last week, destroy buildings, etc) 

Some people think that lightening was the first experience people ever had
with fire.   That maybe the got close to fire when lightening struck a
tree and left it in flames.   

The fire in this candle is the same kind of fire you get when lightening
strikes.   But is anybody here afraid in this candle?   Why not?   Is it
because it doesn't try to leap out at us or make a loud noise when it
comes?   

Maybe one of the reasons that this fire makes us cheerful rather than
fearful is that we know what it stands for.   It reminds us of Jesus, the
light of the world, and of God's love - of how Jesus lights our way
through the world.

If all you and I knew about God is that he is lightening - which he is -
we would only think of God as scary, powerful, and destructive.   That is
how many people think of God - that He gets angry at injustice - at sin -
and flashes forth like the lightening.   In fact throughout the Bible we
are told when God appears he comes with Thunder and Lightening - and that
it is dangerous to come too close to him.   The people of Israel were
warned to stay away from the Holy Mountain of God lest they be destroyed. 
But through Jesus we learn about the other side of God - and we are told
to draw near to him because being near to him is like being in a great,
bright, warm, and friendly city - where the King is our friend.   God does
not want to destroy us because we have done wrong things - but rather God
wants to help us and make us happy and full of joy.   He wants us to walk
by his guiding light Jesus - so that we might be close to him forever.   


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Loving God - God of consuming fire and of flashing light - we thank
   you for coming to us - in Jesus our Saviour - and for being our
   friend. - We thank you for calling us to your side - and for the
   light of your saving word - the warmth of your healing love.  Help
   us not to fear you - but rather to love you - as you love us.   We
   ask it in Jesus' name.   - Amen

   And in the words Jesus taught us....  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:  "It Only Takes A Spark"                                   - VU 289


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 HEBREWS 12:18-29
   (NIV)  You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that
   is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;  to a trumpet
   blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it
   begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could
   not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the
   mountain, it must be stoned."  The sight was so terrifying that
   Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." 

   But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the
   city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands
   of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose
   names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the judge of
   all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the
   mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks
   a better word than the blood of Abel. 

   See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  If they did not
   escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much
   less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 
   At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised,
   "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."  
   The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken -
   that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

   Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
   let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence
   and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire."

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 71:1-6 (VU 789, Pt 1) and the Gloria Patri sung:

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

   
A READING FROM LUKE 13:10-17
   (NIV)  On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,
   and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for
   eighteen years.  She was bent over and could not straighten up at
   all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her,
   "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity."  Then he put his
   hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

   Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue
   ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work.  So come
   and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." 

   The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites!  Doesn't each of you on the
   Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to
   give it water?  Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham,
   whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on
   the Sabbath day from what bound her?" 

   When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the
   people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


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

SERMON:  "That To Which We Have Come"  

   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.

There is a tale told about a certain man went through the forest seeking
any bird of interest he might find.  He caught a young eagle, brought it
home and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken
food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds.

   Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and, after passing
   through the garden, said 'That bird is an Eagle, not a chicken.'

   'Yes' said the owner, 'but I have trained it to be a chicken.  It
   is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures
   fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.'

   'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle still; it has the heart
   of an eagle, and I will help it soar high up in to the heavens.'

   'No,' said the owner. ' it is a chicken and will never fly.'

   They agreed to test it.  The naturalist picked up the eagle, held
   it up and said with great intensity. 'Eagle thou art an eagle; thou
   dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy
   wings and fly.'

   The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the
   chickens eating their food, and down he jumped.

   The owner said; 'I told you it was a chicken.'

   'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle. Give it another chance
   tomorrow. '

   So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said:
   'Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.'  But
   again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed
   with them.

   Then the owner said: 'I told you it was a chicken.'

   'No,' asserted the naturalist, 'it is an eagle, and it has the
   heart of an eagle; only give it one more chance, and I will make it
   fly tomorrow.'

   The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city
   and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain.  The sun
   was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and
   every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning.

   He picked up the eagle and said to it: 'Eagle, thou art an eagle;
   thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth thy
   wings and fly.'

   The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to
   it.  But it did not fly.  The naturalist then made it look straight
   at the sun.  Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the
   screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never
   returned.  Though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken, it was
   an eagle.

Society has a way dehumanizing us.  
   Of causing us to fail to see our worth before God.  
       Of making us little more than objects to whom advertisers make
their pitch, and about whom governments create statistics and form
policies to keep everything safe and predictable.

And religion without vision also has this effect
   reducing us to the status of law keepers - or law breakers
   classifying us according to what we believe or do not believe
   and categorizing us according to the way in which we conform or do not
conform to the expectations of the church or denomination in which we
happen to find ourselves.

But, in and through Christ Jesus, like the bent over woman that he healed
in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, we are sons and daughters of Abraham. 
We part of the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven
- part of the throng who have come - and who are yet to come, to Mount
Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, where
thousands upon thousands of angels are gathered in joyful assembly.

It is easy to lose track of who we are - and whose we are - and to slip
into the old ways - the way of the law and it's regulations; 
   the way of trying to please God by adhering to a code that measures
   our worth by what we do and our value by what we refrain from doing.

It is easy to forget that we are eagles 
and that we are meant to fly in the highest heavens.

Today's gospel passage is about how Jesus heals a woman who has been
crippled by a spirit for the past eighteen years - she has become a bent
over woman, a hunch back - unable to look up - unable to do all the things
that we who are not crippled can do.

It is a wonderful passage that shows us something of the incredible grace
and the wonderful power of our Saviour.

Walter Wink, in his book "Engaging the Powers", suggests that Jesus'
actions in today's reading represented a revolution happening in seven
short verses.  In this story, Jesus tries to wake people up to the kind of
life God wants for them.  Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God where
people have equal worth and all of life has dignity - and in this story he
acts that message out.  In the midst of a highly patriarchal culture Jesus
breaks at least six strict cultural and religious rules:

First, Jesus speaks to the woman.  In civilized society, Jewish men did
   not speak to women.  Remember the story in the Gospel According to
   John where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well.  She was
   shocked because a Jew would speak to a Samaritan.  But when the
   disciples returned, the Scripture records, "They were astonished that
   he was speaking with a woman "  

In speaking to the bent over woman, Jesus jettisons the male restraints on
women's freedom.

Second, Jesus calls her to the centre of the synagogue.  By doing so he
   challenges the notion of a male monopoly on access to knowledge and to
   God.

Third, Jesus touches the woman, something forbidden under the holiness
   code.  That is the code which protected men from a woman's uncleanness
   and from her sinful seductiveness.

Fourth, Jesus calls her "daughter of Abraham," a term not found in any of
   the prior Jewish literature.  This is revolutionary because it was
   believed that women were saved through their men.  To call her a
   daughter of Abraham is to make her a full-fledged member of the nation
   of Israel with equal standing before God.

Fifth, Jesus he heals on the Sabbath, the holy day.  In doing this he
   demonstrates God's compassion for people over ceremony, and reclaims
   the Sabbath for the celebration of God's liberal goodness.

And last, and not least, Jesus challenges the ancient belief that her
   illness is a direct punishment from God for sin.  He asserts that she
   is ill, not because God willed it, but because there is evil in the
   world.  (In other words, bad things happen to good people.).

The breaking of these six rules or understandings did not go unnoticed by
the Jewish leaders.  The leader of the synagogue was shocked by Jesus's
behaviour and let it be known, saying:

   "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those
   days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day."

He was like the usher in a church where a man under the influence
staggered into the service and sat on the front row.  

   As the preacher started his sermon, the gentleman shouted "Amen" or
   "Praise the Lord" or "Hallelujah" after almost every sentence.  The
   entire congregation was becoming agitated about this unusual
   behaviour so the usher made his way to the front to escort the
   gentleman out.  

   When the usher informed him that he was making too much noise, he
   replied, "Well, brother, I've just got the Holy Spirit!"  To which
   the usher replied, "Well, you didn't get it here so you gotta
   leave!"

By the power of God Jesus healed the bent over woman, and the synagogue
leader's response was, "Well, you didn't get the power of God here!  Not
on the Sabbath!"

But the Lord answered him and said, 

   "You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox
   or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 
   And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound
   for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the
   Sabbath day?"

Jesus reacted with strong language because the leader of the synagogue
just didn't get it.  He had no concept of Jesus' radical understanding of
the nature of God nor of the purpose for which Jesus came. 

Jesus saw God's will as focussed on people, not on rules.  The rules are
there to help people, not to break them.  They are there to help us fly
like the eagles God made us to be, not to turn us into chickens.  

The ruler of the synagogue reflected the understanding that being
"religious" was about obeying the commandments. 

It's a view that is still with us today.  It is found in those
conservatives who insist on correct doctrine and belief before all other
things - and in those liberals whose only criteria of what faith is about
is related to the good deeds that we do, or fail to do.

For Jesus, God's chief concern was that we should love and care for
another; that all people should be brought into a healing and saving
relationship with himself - and with one another.

To Jesus, God is not primarily a rule-maker,
rather God is a life-giver. 

When we understand Jesus' view of God, suddenly the focus moves from God's
law to God's love for people and the world.  Commandments, rules,
guidelines, and traditions are subordinate to God's love - a love that is
forgiving - a love that is healing - a love that is transforming - a love
that sets us free to be all that God made us to be.

Paul reflects on this in today's selection from his Letter to the Hebrews.

Thinking of the events that occurred at Mount Sinai where Moses received
the Law, he writes:

   "You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is
   burning with fire,  to darkness, gloom and storm;  to a trumpet
   blast or to such a voice speaking words such that those who heard
   it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they
   could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the
   mountain, it must be stoned."

We have not come, in other words, to a holy place, which we need to be
protected from on account of our sin.

Rather, as Paul continues:
 
   You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of
   the living God.  

   You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful
   assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written
   in heaven.  

   You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of
   righteous men made perfect,  to Jesus the mediator of a new
   covenant,  and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word
   than the blood of Abel. 

The blood of Abel, you will recall, cries out from the earth for justice
and retribution, but the blood of the new Covenant speaks to us not of
justice and retribution, but rather it speaks to us of forgiveness and of
reconciliation.

That forgiveness, that reconciliation, 
allows us to enter the holiest of holy places without fear.

We have come - in coming to Christ - to a new place, to a place of the
Spirit, to a kingdom which cannot be shaken because it is not built out of
perishable things, but rather out of imperishable things.

We have come - and are coming to the place where the angels gather in joy
and where our names are recorded - and we are counted as the first born -
as those who will inherit with Christ all that God has stored up for his
beloved.

We are children of the King - meant to come to that place where those who
love God, those who are in right relationship with God and seek to do his
will, are made perfect.

There is a mystery here.
- The mystery of our communion, our oneness, with God through Christ
Jesus;
- the mystery of how, despite our failings, God sees us and treats us as
his beloved,
- where he treats us as eagles rather than as chickens.

Life sometimes has a way of beating us down, 
zapping our enthusiasm, 
crushing our plans.  

Little by little we can find ourselves bent over from the failures,
disappointments, and guilt.  

And little by little we can find others placing burdens upon us and
robbing us of our status as the children of Abraham - the children of
promise, - those who have been called to come to Mount Zion - to the
heavenly city of God.

We can end up like the bent over woman 
- lurking at the edges of the sanctuary, wondering where can we go.

This is the place - not these four walls which can be shaken but this
assembly - where Jesus walks among us and reveals to us the fullness of
the love of God.

This is the  place where Jesus calls out to us to come forward and to be
healed and to worship God with reverence and awe.

Jesus calls us to be healed of the spirit that afflicts us and bend us
over.  

Jesus calls us to be healed of the spirit that makes rules and laws about
holiness greater the people those rules and laws are meant to help.

Don't refuse Jesus because you feel unworthy of his call.

Rather, come to Christ  knowing that it is his will to set you free from
those things that make you less than person he created you to be -- and
that in coming to his heavenly mountain you will find life instead of
death - and mercy instead of judgement.


Let us pray... Lord God, loving Christ.   We need your help today.  We
come to you just as we are, trusting in your great mercy by which we have
been anew to a living hope through Christ Jesus.   Oh lamb of God, who
takes away the sin of the world - grant us your peace - and bring us to
your holy mountain and to the multitude of angels who sing for joy in your
presence.   Amen.


* HYMN:  "God, Whose Almighty Word"                                - VU 313


THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Loving God, we thank you for appointing Jesus as the mediator of a new and
better covenant - and for making us part of the church of the first born -
of those whose names are written in heaven.  Through him, your living
word, you reach out to us and set us free from those things that weigh us
down and bring us into joyful assembly with the angels and all those
gathered before your throne.  We praise you, O Lord, and pray that your
light might be seen and welcomed throughout the whole earth....   Lord,
hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for all those who are bent over and oppressed by
crippling spirits.   Set them free and set free too all those whose
attitudes and opinions lead them to burden others and to shut the door to
your healing power in our midst....  Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray, O Lord, for the little ones - for those who are seen as
unimportant - for those who are devalued by our world.   Help them to know
themselves as your beloved children.  Indeed we pray now for all who
hunger for the Bread of Life  and thirst for the Wine of Heavenly
Joy....... . Lord hear our prayer...

We pray too, O Lord, for those individuals and situations that were shared
in sharing time  and those who names rest now upon our hearts........
BIDDING PRAYER.... Lord hear our prayer....

Lord of all, your glory is a gift to all peoples, and the door to Your
Kingdom is open to the last and the least of all.  We thank you for this
time of worship.   By Your Spirit be present in us as we leave this place
today, lead us in the narrow way, and save us at the last through Christ
Jesus, he who is our Lord and Saviour, and our brother and our friend.  We
ask it in his name.  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

   xx update Gracious and loving God - we offer ourselves and our
   gifts to you so that the light you shine upon us  may burn more
   brightly and so that your Word may be carried to others by the
   power of the Holy Spirit working through us.  Bless our offering
   and make it fruitful - we ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Walk With Me"                                  - VU 649


* 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                                     - VU 971
Go in peace,
love yourself with the love that God has for you, 
love one another as Christ has shown you how,
- and may the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit uphold you and grace you
with the vision, strength, wisdom and love of God 
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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