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Sermon and Liturgy for Lent 2 - Year A
Genesis 12:1-4; Romans 4:4:1-5, 14-17 John 3:1-17
"Born Again"


READING:  Genesis 12:1-4; Romans 4:4:1-5, 14-17 and John 3:1-17
SERMON :  "Born Again"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-le02sesn 473824
                   
     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)

                     
* CALL TO WORSHIP:
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  Rejoice in the Lord you righteous.  
   Praise befits the upright
P  The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.  
L  By his word the heavens were made. 
P  And all their hosts by the breath of his mouth.
L  His Spirit hovered over the face of the deep, 
   fashioning and bringing life to all of creation.
P  The Spirit still works today, 
   bringing new birth to those who call upon God's name; 
   and guiding and strengthening all who trust in him.
L  Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.  
P  Blessed are those who believe in the testimony of his son.


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


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Most Holy and Gracious God - you who are the wind that brings new
life and the breath that sustains us - blow  upon this day. 
Inspire the words we hear and speak and sing.  Sweep away the
dullness of our minds that we may know you more fully.  Clear our
hearts of those things  that clutter them that we may love Jesus
more deeply.  Banish from our wills any weakness that prevents us
from following him more faithfully.  Be here with us we pray -
and move among us so that your name may be praised both in this
place and in all those places we may go this day.  We ask it in
Jesus' name.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "Creating God, Your Fingers Trace"              - VU 265


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS


INTROIT For The Word of God (please stay seated):
  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!  (VU 371 v.2 & refrain)


A READING FROM GENESIS 12:1-4
   (NRSV  Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and
   your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will
   show you. {2} I will make of you a great nation, and I will
   bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a
   blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, and the one
   who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of
   the earth shall be blessed." {4} So Abram went, as the LORD
   had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five
   years old when he departed from Haran.

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


CHILDREN'S TIME: "Risking And Trusting With God"
Object:   Scarf - blindfold
Theme: Travelling With God
Source:   Self and various

Good Morning...  Sometimes when we something for the very first
time it is a little bit scary.  Like going to school for the
first time - or meeting some new people you have never met
before.  I know that I am sometimes nervous when I have to go
somewhere I've never been before.  I worry about finding the
place - and about getting there on time.  Do any of you ever
worry about trying to do something new???  What kind of things
have made you nervous -- riding a bicycle for the first time??   

Sometimes, when we are about to do something new it really helps
if our mothers or fathers or a really close friend are with us --
When I learned how to ride my first bicycle my oldest brother
walked  beside me and helped hold me up at the very beginning --
he made me feel I could do it - and soon I did.  It really helps
if we have someone we trust to be with us when we are about to do
something  we have never done before.

Today I need a volunteer - to get blindfolded -- who has never
been blindfolded before - who has never had to try to find there
away around without being able to see???  How do you feel???  How
would you feel if I told you now that you have to go to the back
of the church and get a hymn book and then come back and give it
to me???  Now - how about if I go with you???   Let's try it...

What you just experienced is a bit of what Abraham and Sarah
experienced many years ago.  God called them to leave everything
behind and to move to a new country - a country that God was
going to give them.  But they didn't where they were to go or
what they would find when they got there.  It was like they were
blind - but they trusted God - like you trusted me - and like we
trust our parents to help us do new things - and so - even though
they were a bit scared - they left everything they had ever known
and they set out and went to the place that God showed them.  It
took many years - but  they knew that God was with them - just as
God is with us today - and they listened for his voice and  he
led them on the way.

   "LET US PRAY...   Help us God -- to close our eyes -- and
   to listen to for your  voice. -- Lead us on the road --
   you want us to travel -- and keep us safe -- each day of
   our lives. -- We ask in Jesus' name.  Amen."


* HYMN:  "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus"                  - VU 357


A READING FROM ROMANS 4:1-5, 14-17
   (NRSV) What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our
   ancestor according to the flesh? {2} For if Abraham was
   justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not
   before God. {3} For what does the scripture say? "Abraham
   believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
   {4} Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift
   but as something due. {5} But to one who without works trusts
   him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as
   righteousness.

   If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs,
   faith is null and the promise is void. {15} For the law
   brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there
   violation. {16} For this reason it depends on faith, in order
   that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all
   his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but
   also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the
   father of all of us, {17} as it is written, "I have made you
   the father of many nations")--in the presence of the God in
   whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into
   existence the things that do not exist.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 121 (Voices United, page 844) and Sung
Refrain


CHOIR ANTHEM:


A READING FROM JOHN 3:1-17
   (NRSV)  Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of
   the Jews. {2} He came to Jesus by night and said to him,
   "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God;
   for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the
   presence of God." {3} Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell
   you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born
   from above." {4} Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be
   born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into
   the mother's womb and be born?" {5} Jesus answered, "Very
   truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God
   without being born of water and Spirit. {6} What is born of
   the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
   {7} Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be
   born from above.' {8} The wind blows where it chooses, and
   you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes
   from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of
   the Spirit." {9} Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things
   be?" {10} Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel,
   and yet you do not understand these things? {11} "Very truly,
   I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we
   have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. {12} If I
   have told you about earthly things and you do not believe,
   how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? {13}
   No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended
   from heaven, the Son of Man. {14} And just as Moses lifted up
   the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be
   lifted up, {15} that whoever believes in him may have eternal
   life. {16} "For God so loved the world that he gave his only
   Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but
   may have eternal life. {17} "Indeed, God did not send the Son
   into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the
   world might be saved through him.

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


* HYMN: "Your Hands, O Christ"                           - VU 622


SERMON: "Born Again"

   God of law and of love, dispenser of justice and of mercy,
   judge of our actions and saviour of our lives -- help us
   to hear your word this day.  Bless my lips and our hearts
   - so that in speaking and in hearing your will may be
   known and that which you want us to have and do may be had
   and done - we ask it though Christ our Lord.  Amen

I met a man a couple of months ago who had recently been reborn.

He was a criminal - a man who dealt drugs, set fires, and robbed
homes and stores.  He was caught for one of his crimes, a crime
in which he had been injured.

After he recovered from his injuries - the courts tried and
convicted him for his crimes.

I met him just a few months afterwards,
At a bible study group.

He was just about to leave because he had promised to accompany
someone to church, another new believer in Christ, but before he
left I found out something about him.
I found out that he was embarked on a new life, and that while
the consequences of his old life were still catching up to him -
he was about to lose his home for example - he had become a
person genuinely concerned about others, that he had become a
person who not only respected the property of others,but who was
also concerned for their spiritual health, and eager to share
with them what God had done for him, and could do for them.

I found out that he was sorry for his old ways and that he was
striving to live in an entirely new way;
   and from the testimony of others who were present, I heard
   that he was happier than he ever had been before, and that
   his relationship with his family, once very shaky - was now
   becoming stable.

It was a beautiful encounter -
because I had heard the old truth about this man;
and then I saw - before my eyes - the new truth about him 
- a truth given by God.

This man proved the lie to the old adage - "you can't change a
leopard's spots".  His spots had not only changed - they had
disappeared completely.  He had been born again.

   "How", asked, Nicodemus, "can anyone be born after having
   grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother's
   womb and be born?"

No - one can't enter the womb of his mother and be born again,
but one can be born from above - born again - of the Spirit,
and indeed - one must be born of the Spirit - if they are to
enter the kingdom of God.

I think that most people are like Nicodemus -
they understand what it is to be born of water -
they understand that this means that one must repent
and be washed for the forgiveness of sins -- 
but for many people it goes no farther than that.

Like Nicodemus many people are law abiding citizens,
sorry when they realize they have done something wrong,
and willing to seek forgiveness and to try again,
willing to be cleansed with the baptism of John,
and to try to live a righteous life according to the law.

That is basically where Nicodemus was at.

He was a law abiding citizen,
one who loved God,
and taught his ways to others.

Unlike the man I spoke of at the beginning of the sermon, 
Nicodemus was a man who did all things right, 
He lived as he had been taught to live,
He prayed as he had been taught to pray,
He worshipped as he had been taught to worship,
He was a credit to his ancestors,
and honoured by his peers.

Nicodemus too, like many people, recognized  that Jesus was
special; that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God, because
no one - after all - could do what Jesus did apart from the
presence of God.

But Nicodemus, for all this, was not able to understand Jesus and
what he was about.

A couple of months after I decided that God was calling me to the
ministry I was invited by one of the members of my church to
attend a Kathleen Kulman Crusade in Vancouver.  This was back in
1974 or 75.

When I got there, ushers where handing out white postcards.  On
these cards where written four words that have stuck with me to
this day.

The words were "GOD HAS NO GRANDCHILDREN".

It took me a minute to fully grasp the implications of these
words.

What I took them to mean was 
   - that it was not enough for a person to grow up in a
   religious family, 
   - that it was not enough for a person to learn about faith in
   Christ from his or her parents and to live according to those
   teachings -
rather every person had to make their own personal decision for
God, every person had to be born again - no matter how much
holiness they had learned and practised because of the home they
were born into.

Do you know how fantastic that is?

That puts everyone on the same basis before God - it makes
everyone equal - and everyone responsible for themselves,
and that is good news!
Especially for those who have not had all the breaks -
Especially for those who have been lost,
those who have been raised in a godless household,
those who, like most people today, have never been exposed to the
gospel.

But it is even better than that -
better because the very words "born again", or "born from above" 
tells us volumes about the process involved in becoming one of
God's children.

Think about it for a second.
Think about the first birth you went through,
about what you know of it.

First off - you are conceived 
and it is obviously not anything you did that brings it about.

So it is with our Spiritual conception -
God, by the power of his Spirit, brings it about -
God plans it - and God executes it.

As a baby in the womb is surrounded by water,
So God surrounds us all with his Spirit, protecting us and
sheltering the growing seed,
the seed of faith.

And the actual birth is the same 
- it is the work of the mother,
not of the child.  

There may be some help of course 
- help from doctors and nurses who assist the mother in the case
of our physical birth,
- or help from spiritual midwives, from friends, from
evangelists, from neighbours ,
in the case of our spiritual birth.

In fact the only thing we have to do on our own is do what our
new bodies want us to do - all we have to do is breathe.

Breathe the air of life,
Breathe the Spirit - which, in Hebrew - is translated wind or
breath.

How can a person be born again?

Well - all it takes is wanting to breathe the breath of God,
of being willing to trust the Spirit 
and believe the testimony of Christ concerning the Father.

Being born - involves surrendering,
of being willing to be pushed down the birth canal to the light
of day,
of going with the flow of what God has done and is doing in
making us new.

Before I became a Christian,
I was like Nicodemus -
not in the fact that I lived well,
because I did not,
but in the fact that I believed in God and what I knew of his
law,
and in the fact that I resisted what was new to me,
in the fact that I debated with Christ,
asking those who testified concerning him - how it could it be
so.

I knew that my life was imperfect,
but I could not see how God could live in me,
how he could bring me to a new birth
or why he would chose the way of the cross and resurrection to
bring it to pass. 

Finally - because of the efforts of the Spirit,
- because of the efforts of many people who prayed for me and
loved me even though I was a stranger to them and their ways,
I finally - one night - alone in my room - said to God - I
believe, forgive me, dwell within me, rule over me, help me be
what you want me to be.

I was born that night -
born a little one in the faith,
with much to learn,
with much growth yet to undertake - a growth that, God and myself
willing, will continue yet for many years.

To be born again, some people, like Nicodemus, have to give up
their wisdom;
   others have to give up their disbelief;
       all have to give up their belief in their own
       righteousness or goodness; which for some - like me - is
       not too hard, and for others - especially for those who
       have always lived good lives, is very hard.

It is hard to think that our goodness doesn't count when it comes
to God's love   to our deserving it   to our receiving it.

Yet we have to give up credit and loss based ways of thinking,
we have to give up our doubt, 
we have to give up our way of confining God to little boxes of
theological perfectionism,
and let the Christ do his work in us.

What happens afterwards? 
What happens after we surrender to God and allow ourselves to be
pushed down the birth canal to our new birth?

A new life happens, a new way of seeing, feeling, and thinking
comes about in us.

We begin to see things in a spiritual fashion,
We discover new truths operating in our lives - spiritual truths,
We learn new ways of dealing with life in the world,
We begin to live differently than before.

It is a different world that we see when we are born again, just
as the world of an infant is different than the world of an
embryo; and there is no explaining to others, who are not in it,
just exactly what it is like - 
except to say - as so many have said before - it is wonderful,
it is beautiful, it is full of light - light that even the
darkness, try as it might, can't overcome.

The man I met at a bible study a couple months back could not say
enough about how his life had changed, about how God was making
him new.

He was excited - everything was different for him,
and my friends - everything can be different for us a well.

If you have lost the zip, the flavour, the flair of the new life
that God gives, or if you have never had it 
-all you have to do is surrender, 
- to go with the flow of what God has said to us through Jesus
Christ 
- to believe that he is the one that God, because of his love,
gave to the world, so that everyone who believes in him , may not
perish, but may have eternal life.

Believe - and trust - and breath the spiritual air that God has
provided.  Dwell in his word.  Pray by his spirit.  And live by
the faith he gives to you.   And you will be born again - and
grow in the new life God has made for you .


Praise be to God, day by day.  Amen.

              
* HYMN: "Holy Spirit, Source of Love"                    - VU 515


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
We give you thanks today, O God for who you are - for your
majesty and your power - for your holiness and your love -- for
what you have made -- and how you watch over it -- most of all we
thank you for your invitation to us be a part of you - to be a
part of your family - to be made new by your Spirit - and to see
the new heaven and the new earth with our own eyes.

Help us Lord to have belief - to have faith - to have trust - to
have obedience - in you - and towards you.  

Grant us joy in our journey and that the world may indeed bless
itself by us.  

We give our hearts to you once again, O Lord.  Our yearning - our
hope - our weakness - and our strength - we offer it all to
you.... Lord hear our prayer

Lord we offer to you also the concerns of our hearts for others:
that they may be whole
that they may see kingdom of God 
that they may have enough to eat and drink
that they may freedom 
and the blessings of prosperity and of health
Hear our prayers for our family - the church - the world --- 
Lord hear our prayer...

We ask all these things through Jesus - who taught us to call up
you, saying... OUR FATHER


MINUTE FOR MISSION: OUR LIFE TOGETHER AND IN THE WORLD


* 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

   Gracious God - you have given us a new name and a new
   start in living before you.   You make fresh each morning. 
   We offer to you these gifts - and ourselves - in the trust
   you will use them and us for the sake of your kingdom. 
   Bless us and all that we do that we may be a blessing to
   others in Jesus' name.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Come and Find The Quiet Centre"      - VU 374


* COMMISSIONING (Unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit we now
   go forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people
   of God, the body of Christ.
                                 
                      
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace
and may the blessing of God the Creator, the peace of God the
Christ, and the power of God the Holy Spirit, abide with you as
you travel where he leads you, both now and forevermore.  Amen.


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


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


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