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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 24 - Year C - After Terrorist Attack
1 Timothy 1:12-17; Psalm 51, Luke 15:1-10
"What Person Among You"

READING:  1 Timothy 1:12-17; Psalm 51, Luke 15:1-10 
SERMON :  "What Person Among You"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or24su 947798

   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: In the wake of the September 11th 2001 Terrorist Attack
   on the USA the follow lectionary materials were interwoven with 
   themes appropriate to dealing with the aftermath of grief, anger,
   shock, and hope.  The Prayer of Invocation and part of the 
   Prayers of the People are based on ones by "Peter K. Perry" 
   (pkperry@QWEST.NET) from his "Bulletin for Sunday 16/09/01" as 
   sent to the PRCL-List.   For help focussing the children's time
   thanks to a PRCL List note by Alma Beck (revalma@YAHOO.COM) 
   "Re: Children's Sermon".  The Sermon approach and main story from 
   Fr. Jerry Fuller (padre@TRI-LAKES.NET) "Homily 09/16/01".

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)
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  Let us worship together the Searching God.
P  We praise God.  
   Like a good shepherd, who cares for all the sheep, 
   he does not abandon anyone.  
   He seeks the lost, lifts them up and brings them home.
L  We praise God.  He never stops seeking us out.
P  Like a poor widow, who cherishes every coin, 
   God does not cease from his searching.  
   He reaches out and rejoices when he finds us.
L  Let us remember those who are lost today - and pray for them and give
   thanks to our God.


- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries   
- Special Matters   
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


Oh God of Sarah and of Isaac, hope of Hagar and Ishmael, and guiding light of
Mary and of Jesus, we come to you today from a week in which our hearts have
been broken. Our calm has been disrupted and our sense of security has been
dashed. We are discouraged and tired from seeing images of destruction and
death.  We come to your house for a song of hope, a promise of peace, and a
word of wisdom.  Speak to us, O God of our ancestors.   Speak to us, O God in
whom we live and breathe.  Speak to us, O God of our children. Restore our
souls, fill us with faith, look into our brokenness, and by your touch make us
whole.  Grant us and all peoples your peace. We ask it in the name of Jesus -
who died that we might live, and who lives that we might never die.  Amen.

* HYMN:  "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"                      - VU 264

Theme:   Where is God This Week
Object:  None
Source:  from an idea by Alma Beck  2001 as sent to PRCL

Alma writes:   I am intrigued with a suggestion from Fred Rogers (AKA Mr.
Rogers). When helping young people cope with tragedy, he suggests focussing on
the "helpers". Doing so helps the kids feel cared for, rather than
concentrating on the fear inherent in the situation.   I'm thinking of speaking
briefly about the woman looking for a coin, the shepherd looking for the sheep,
then introducing "the scary things that have been on the news this week",
asking the kids to help me look for God's love in the tragedy. With help, I
think we can focus on the firefighters, police, ambulance workers, blood
donors, etc."

What I am going to do is as suggested - let the kids talk... and refocus the
talk towards the end.


You know - this all reminds me of something Jesus said - that God is like a
shepherd who has 100 sheep and when one is lost - he leaves the 99 and goes and
looks for the one -- or how God is like a woman who has 10 coins and losses one
- and searches everywhere for it. 

   Caring God - we thank you for your love   a love that seeks us    a
   love that finds us - a love that rejoices over us.  -  Help us to love
   like you.   Bless today those who are looking for the lost - those who
   are binding up wounds - those who are bring comfort to those who mourn
   - those who are working for justice - and those who are praying for
   true peace.   We ask it in the name of Jesus.    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:  "The Lord's My Shepherd"                                  - VU 747

   (NRSV)  I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me,
   because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, {13} even
   though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.
   But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, {14} and
   the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in
   Christ Jesus. {15} The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that
   Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the
   foremost. {16} But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as
   the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an
   example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. {17} To
   the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and
   glory forever and ever. Amen.

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

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 51 (Voices United 776)

   (NRSV)  Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen
   to him. {2} And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying,
   "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." {3} So he told them this
   parable: {4} "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of
   them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one
   that is lost until he finds it? {5} When he has found it, he lays it on his
   shoulders and rejoices. {6} And when he comes home, he calls together his
   friends and neighbours, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found
   my sheep that was lost.' {7} Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in
   heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons
   who need no repentance. {8} "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she
   loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search
   carefully until she finds it? {9} When she has found it, she calls together
   her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the
   coin that I had lost.' {10} Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the
   presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

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

* HYMN:  "Great is Thy Faithfulness"                               - VU 288

SERMON:  "What Person Among You..."

    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.

The events of the past week have changed our perception of things here in North
America. They have touched us all in way or another - and raised within us a
whole set of emotions, emotions that we do not often feel.

Here today we burn candles of remembrance and peace 
and pray and think about these things.
And tomorrow evening our community gathers at Sacred Heart to remember and to
pray for all who are affected by this tragedy - and to pray for peace with
justice - to pray for a better world to come.

So many have lost so much in these past few days.

The gospel reading this morning is about things that are lost.
About people who are lost.
And about our God - who looks - and who rejoices - when they are found.

I want to reflect on what Jesus says in the gospel reading today using the
words of a professional storyteller from Pennsylvania - a woman who happens to
have worked for a time as shepherd in the West Country of England.

And as I do - I want to ask a question that many of you might have about the
story that Jesus tells, namely, what sort of shepherd would leave behind the
whole flock to go after just one? 
Can any single sheep be worth so much to the shepherd that he would risk the
safety of the others?  Can any one of us be worth that much to God, the True

Fiona Powell says, "Yes, shepherds really do act that way."   Then she tells
this story - which I relate here in the third person...

   It was on a cool October day when Fiona walked with the head shepherd
   far into the hills to mend fences and to check on the fifty ewes
   pasturing on a fenced-in hilltop. 

   Fiona went with Robert, as she did every day, to see that the sheep
   were all right, that the fence was secure, that none were missing, and
   especially to make sure none of the sheep was lying on her side.  When
   a sheep  rolls onto her side she can't get up; she gets "bloat," and
   dies.  It was important work, to check on the sheep, as well as cause
   for a pleasant hike.  The Mendip hills rolled of to one side and the
   great Cheddar Gorge opened off to the other, making for a spectacular
   view. But it was not the beauty of the view that caught the attention
   of the head shepherd.

   Something was bothering Robert about the sheep. He was not a
   sentimental man.  Nor was he inclined to feel compassion for his
   animals, as many other farmers are.  Truth be told he was a bit of a
   hard case, a real bottom-line man.  When he saw the sheep dotting a
   hillside, Robert didn't think of fluffy little bundles of wool adding
   character to the scenery.  He thought of profit and loss.  But Robert
   was a good shepherd, with terrific instincts that had been honed over
   many years in the field.  And he wasn't happy.  Something was not

   He told Fiona to count the sheep.  She walked through and counted them. 
   Forty-nine.  The head shepherd also counted them.  Forty-nine. 

   "What does that mean?" asked Fiona, who was new to the job.

   "One's missing," Robert replied.

   "What does that mean?" Fiona asked again.

   "We've got to find it."

   They looked around the hilltop paddock, and Robert spotted a break in
   the fence.  Peering beyond, he saw a steep limestone slope.  The
   terrain was rocky and covered with small, scrubby trees, blocking their
   view to the bottom.

   "I'll bet she's gone down there," Robert muttered.  The younger
   shepherd looked warily down the forbidding slope.

   "If she's fallen down there, she's probably died," Fiona offered.

   "Maybe she has, but we can't just leave her," Robert replied.

   All told, there were a thousand ewes on that farm and forty rams.  It
   was a big flock.  But even in a flock of a thousand sheep, there are no

   "We certainly can't just leave her.  She's a valuable animal," Robert
   said.  That was a phrase he would repeat several times that day: she's
   a valuable animal.

   So down the slope they clambered, making sure that the forty-nine were
   secure in the field. They took with them that indispensable ally of
   every shepherd, the sheepdog.  Fiona slipped and slid down the muddy
   slope, walking from rock to rock when she could and hanging onto trees
   as she passed them.

   At the bottom of the slope they spotted the ewe, lying behind some
   brush.  Running to her, they found her to be hurt but still alive. 
   Clearly she had fallen down the hill and could not get to her feet. 
   She was suffering, but not so much that she might not recover.  The
   sheep could not walk, and she was far too heavy to be lifted, let alone
   be carried.  Robert quickly laid out a plan. Fiona would stay with the
   ewe and keep her from rolling onto her side, to prevent her from dying
   of bloat.  Robert would walk back along the base of the slope, call the
   veterinarian, and return with a small tractor and trailer to fetch the

   "But what about the fencing, and the other chores we had planned for
   today?" Fiona asked.

   "All other work on the farm stops. She's a valuable animal," Robert

   Robert set off along the base of the slope, clearing a path for the
   tractor as he went.  Fiona set about bracing the sheep up with her
   back.  She was cold, and muddy and sore from the day's exertions, and
   the sheep was so heavy the young shepherd had to brace her own feet
   against a tree so she could hold up the ewe.  The dog sat next to Fiona
   and kept her company.

   For about two hours Fiona spoke cheerfully to the ewe, telling her not
   to worry, she would be all right.  Meanwhile, as the day lengthened,
   Fiona cast a wary eye skyward.  It was England in October.  Over and
   over she made a silent wish, "Don't rain."

   Finally Robert returned on the tractor, with an extra shepherd to help
   life the ewe onto the trailer.  They hefted the ewe on, and Fiona
   climbed on behind, "to keep her happy, keep her encouraged," she says

   They arrived at the barnyard to find the owners and all the hands
   gathered, cheering them home.

   "We were treated like heroes," Fiona says now. "Anyone would think we
   had done something magnificent, other than missing our lunch."

   The people kept congratulating Robert on finding the ewe and bringing
   her back, saying over and over, "She's very valuable to us, very

   The tough head shepherd even almost smiled.  Fiona went off to eat her
   lunch and nurse her sore back.  When she saw Robert again, he gave her
   the highest praise she had heard from him thus far: "That was a good
   morning's work," he said.

Jesus tells two stories in today's gospel. One is about the lost sheep found, 
another is about a woman who finds a coin she has lost.

From the story of the lost shepherd we can gather that, to God, we are, 
in the words of the unflappable shepherd, Robert, 
a "very valuable animal." 

So valuable, in fact, that Jesus came down to die for us "bloat" sheep.

The lost coin story tells us how important the poor woman who lost the coin
feels it is. 
Although it is night, and she has to get a lamp to look for it, look she does,
when she finds it she calls in the neighbours and throws a celebration.

In fact, she probably spent more on that celebration than the coin was worth. 

Be that as it may - the stories are meant to tell us just how valuable each one
of us is to God.
Every one is of value.  Every single one.

This is not the view of the Pharisees 
- nor perhaps even is it the attitude of the tax-collectors and sinners to whom
Jesus tells the parables.

The pharisees clearly value some people over above others -
they mutter when they see Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them,
and we can imagine their comments -
perhaps comments like those being made in some parts of the world today -
   comments like those of Jerry Falwell, the ultra conservative preacher in
   the United States who helped found the Moral Majority Movement some years
who has blamed the tragedy that has visited the world this week upon the
godlessness of America, and upon groups like the American Civil Liberties Union
for promoting homosexuality, defending abortion rights, and supporting a ban
upon saying the Lord's Prayer in American schools every day.

Imagine too, if you will, the pharisees, as they hear the story that Jesus
tells, contemplating the fate of the lost sheep, and saying to themselves -
well, it is the fault of the sheep for wandering off, we should be more
concerned about those sheep who have done what they should do -
the bloat sheep deserves whatever happens to her...

   What person among you, if they have a hundred sheep, and loses one of
   them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and goes after
   the lost sheep until he finds it?

   Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.  Does she not
   light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

Think of the tens of thousands of men and women in New York City today 
and others in other parts of the world -  husbands, wives, children, rescue
workers, firemen, relatives, co-workers - who have and are looking for the
lost, or news of the lost, in the wreckage of the World Trade Centre.

Think of those who have left their jobs, their homes, their kids, their
routines, to join in the search for persons that they do not even know...

God loves us all like this.   God loves the sinners among us like this.
We, you, I, are valuable sheep.  He seeks us out.
What person among us would not?

And think of the rejoicing that has happened when the few survivors thus far
have been rescued from the wreckage wrought by human sinfulness this week.

Like Robert and the other shepherds who rejoiced in the story that Fiona tells 
so Jesus says 

   "And when the shepherd finds the sheep he joyfully puts it on his
   shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbours
   together and says 'rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep"

And of the woman who finds the lost coin he says

   And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together
   and says, 'rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin'"

What person among us would not do this?
Which one of you would not rejoice?

So Jesus says,   "I tell you that in the same way there will be more
                 rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over
                 ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

We are valuable sheep.
You - each one here today - are valuable persons.

God rejoices over each of you,.
But God especially rejoices over those of us who have been lost - and are now

And - if you are feeling lost today - 
   if you are confused, and alone, and frightened -
   if you have strayed off the path for whatever reason 
       - be it your fault - or the fault of others - or no one's fault at all
raise up your voice and call out so that you may be heard, 
call out - for you are valuable - God is seeking you,
   the God who eats with tax collectors and sinners -
   the Lord who offers up his own body, his own blood,
       to save and give life to the bloat sheep.

What person among you.... what person among you would not look - would not seek 
- would not leave behind the ninety-nine for the sake of the one?
And what person among you would not rejoice when that one is found?

There are two messages here today for us -
the first is that we are all valuable, 
the second is like it - and it is this -
do not rush in and make negative judgements about the value of others -
not even about tax collectors and sinners - or about those who seek them out to
rescue them.

And pray - pray not only for the lost sheep,
pray as well for those who do not value the lost sheep,
   those who cannot understand how God even seeks to save those who work evil
   and who rejoices with all the angels when even one of them repents.

You are valuable - you are loved -
you - and every single last member of the human family.
May we be as one - in God - and in the world that he made for us to live in and
enjoy and share.  Amen

* HYMN:  "A Woman And A Coin"                                      - VU 360

Loving God, this has been a hard week.  We have felt emotions in our hearts
that we seldom feel.  We have felt revulsion at the inhuman acts of terrorism
in our world.  We have felt a variety of things - fear  - anger - confusion,
despair - even the desire for revenge.  The noise of the media does not always
help us turn us to you - indeed it can help lead us further away.   Help us, O
God, in this time of international crisis and personal confusion, to allow
ourselves to be guided by you.  Help us to turn to you in prayer and
supplication, that we might find your answer to the problems of the world.  Do
not let us give in to the temptation to confuse justice with retribution or
peace with protection.  Use us as instruments of love, even when our hearts do
not feel love.  We give you our fears, we give you our sadness.  Give to us the
guidance and grace we need.  Hear us now in the quiet of this sanctuary , as we
make our prayers for ourselves and for all who have been touched by the events
of this week....  Lord, hear prayer...

Almighty God, infinite and eternal in wisdom, power and love:  We praise You
for all that You are and for all that You do for the world.  You have shown us
Your truth and Your love in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  You seek us out when we
go astray.  You look for us when we are lost.  You call to us and rejoice when
we are found.  We thank you for the abundant life you have made us for - the
life you will for us even before we know to lift our hands in prayer to you. 
And we pray for those today who are seeking the lost - those in New York and
Washington - and indeed those throughout our world who seek those who are lost
in spirit as well as those lost in body....   Lord, hear our prayer...

Today Lord, as we think of your love and your plan for our earth   we hold
before our government and the governments of all nations   we recall the need
for justice, the need for an equal sharing of the things that this earth
affords, the need many have for a human touch   the need we all have for a
divine way of walking, the need we have for healing.... Lord hear our prayer...

Today O Lord, we recall as well those individuals and those events that our
brothers and sisters have asked that we remember before you...  BIDDING

Thank you Lord for being one who seeks the lost and who rejoices over those who
are found.  Make us  one in the Spirit - and help us to bring glory and honour
to your name, now and forevermore.  Amen


* 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

   In gratitude we give you honour and glory forever, O God, for your
   grace has overflowed for us with the faith and love that are in Christ
   Jesus.  Accept the sacrifice of our hearts and the works of our hands -
   a sacrifice that we can make only because you first gave yourself to
   us.  Use us to do your will - both now and always.  Amen.

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "O God, Our Help In Ages Past"                  - VU 806

* 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

Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Jesus,   
   knowing that God values you more than a shepherd values his sheep
   and a poor widow her coins,
and may the seeking, embracing, and joyful heart of God be with you and in you,
both now and forevermore.  Amen.

CHORAL 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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