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Sermon (3) and Liturgy for Ordinary 04 - Year A
Micah 6:1-8; I Corinthians 1:18-31; Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12
"Prescriptions and Descriptions"


READING:  I Corinthians 1:18-31; Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12
SERMON :  "Prescriptions and Descriptions"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or04sm 650000
                    
   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 Call to Worship and some phrasing in the Prayers of the
   People are based on John Maynard's "Prayers and Litanies for
   Ordinary 4, Year A", 2002 (as sent to the PRCL-List).  The
   children's story "The Bee-Attitudes" is used with permission of 
   Charles Kirkpatrick, Sermons4Kids.com, 2005.  Sermon sources include
   PRCL List notes from Dr. Robert Flaherty of the First United
   Methodist Church, Roseburg, Oregon (1999), Paul Larsen of Christ the
   King Lutheran Church, New Brighton, MN (2002), and Fr Peter Wales of
   the Anglican Parish of Naracoorte (2002) all as sent to the PRCL
   List in their respective years.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* INTROIT:  "This Is The Day" (verse 1)                            - VU 412


* GREETING AND CALL TO WORSHIP   (based on Psalm 146)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord, O my soul!
P  I will praise the Lord as long as I live. 
   I will sing to my God all my life!
L  The Lord sets prisoners free 
   and gives sight to the blind.
P  He lifts those who have fallen 
   and blesses those who turn to him.
L  Your God, O Zion, will reign for all time!  
P  The Lord is King forever!
L  Praise the Lord, O my people!  
   Praise the Lord, O my soul!
P  Praise the Lord, O my soul!


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Father in heaven, you who bless the earth with your love and goodness -
from the days of Abraham and Moses until this gathering of your church in
prayer, you have formed a people in the image of your Son.  Bless us with
the gift of your kingdom in our midst.   Cause us to see who we are as your
children and accept the praise and the love and the service we bring to you
in this time of worship.  Bless us that we might be a blessing and so bring
glory and honour and thanksgiving to you, and to Christ Jesus our Lord - he
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, both now and
forevermore.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Come, Children, Join To Sing"                            - VU 345


CHILDREN'S TIME: "The Bee - Attitudes"
Theme:    Finding true happiness
Object:   A flower or a toy bee.
Source:   Charles Kirkpatrick (sermons4kids.com), 2005.  With permission.
Scripture Matthew 5:1-12

Have you ever watched a bee buzzing around in a flower garden?  As you
watch that bee, you will see that he isn't worried about a thing in the
world.  He is too busy enjoying all of the beautiful flowers that God has
provided for him.  He is as busy and as happy as a bee can be. 

If I were to ask you to tell me what makes you happy, what would your
answer be?  Would it be something like this?  (Option: At this point you
could allow the children to complete the sentence "Happiness is...") 

Happiness is scoring the winning goal in a soccer game.
Happiness is being the most popular person in my class. 
Happiness is having my own TV.

We all want to be happy, don't we?  Does it surprise you to know that God
wants you to be happy?  Well, he does, but you might be surprised to find
out that what Jesus said about happiness is quite different from what you
and I might expect.  Most of us think that to be happy means having a lot
of money, having plenty to eat, having someone to take care of us, or being
well-liked by everyone.  That isn't what Jesus said.

One day Jesus went up onto the side of a mountain.  He sat down, gathered
his disciples around him, and began to teach them about happiness.  Even
though these are not the exact words Jesus used, I think they will help us
to understand what he taught.

He said things like:

Be happy when you are poor in spirit, because then you will find that your
riches are in the kingdom of heaven.

Be happy when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you, because it
is then that you will feel the love of the One who is the most dear to you.

Be happy with what you have, because then you will find that your heavenly
Father provides everything that you need. 

Be happy when you are hungry for the things of God, because then you will
find that only He can satisfy.

Be happy when you are caring for others, because it is in caring for others
that you will find that you have a heavenly Father who cares for you.

Be happy when your heart is right with God, because it is then that you
will see that God is at work in the world around you.

Be happy when you help others to get along peacefully with one another,
because it is then that you will know the peace that comes from being a
part of the family of God.

Be happy when others treat you badly because you follow me, because your
reward will be great in heaven.

You see, happiness is not a feeling that is brought about by the things
that happen to us.  It is an attitude that we have because of what we have
in our heart.  We need to be like the bee, buzzing happily through life
because of what God has done for us.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Father - help us to have the happiness - that you want for us.
   - Happiness that comes, not from what happens to us - but from what
   happens inside of us.  - We ask it in the name of Jesus. - Amen.
 

   And in the word's 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:  "Give Me Oil In My Lamp"                                - SFGP 130


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 MICAH 6:1-8
   (NIV)  Listen to what the LORD says:  "Stand up, plead your case
   before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. 
   Hear, O mountains, the Lord's accusation; listen, you everlasting
   foundations of the earth.  For the LORD has a case against his
   people; he is lodging a charge against Israel." 

   "My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?
   Answer me.  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the
   land of slavery.  I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 
   My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counselled and what
   Balaam son of Beor answered.  Remember your journey from Shittim to
   Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD."

   With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the
   exalted God?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with
   calves a year old?  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my
   transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 

   He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD
   require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly
   with your God.

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


CHORAL RESPONSE: "What Does The Lord Require of You"               - VU 701


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 15 (Voices United 736) and Gloria Patri Sung
        
   Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.   
   As it was in the beginning, is now, and evermore shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen


A READING FROM I CORINTHIANS 1:18-31
   (NIV)   The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
   perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  
   For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the
   intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

   Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the
   philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the
   world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom
   did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what
   was preached to save those who believe. 

   Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we
   preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness
   to Gentiles,  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and
   Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the
   foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of
   God is stronger than man's strength. 

   Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. 
   Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were
   influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the
   foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak
   things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things
   of this world and the despised things--and the things that are
   not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before
   him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has
   become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness
   and redemption.

   Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

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


* HYMN:  "Ask Me What Great Thing I Know"                          - VU 338


A READING FROM MATTHEW 5:1-12                           - RICHARD FAIRCHILD
   (NIV)  Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and
   sat down.  His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them,
   saying:

   Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

   Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

   Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
   will be filled. 

   Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

   Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

   Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 

   Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say
   all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad,
   because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they
   persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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


SERMON:  "Prescriptions and Descriptions" 

   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.

Super Bowl Sunday is coming soon.  Millions upon millions of people will
watch the game and in the end one team will be crowned "World Champions"
and the other team will be - well - they will be labelled, "the Losers." 
After the game, one team will be celebrating, the other will be dejected.  

Life has its share of winners and losers in all kinds of competitions, 
including those for jobs, prestige, the right spouse, grades and so on.  
In all of these, we either win or lose as the world counts winning and
losing.  

Do we see the winners as the ones who were blessed?
and the losers as those who missed a blessing?

The blessings of the beatitudes, the blessings pronounced by Jesus do not
come to those we expect.  They don't come to the winners of the world.  

Jesus turns our understanding of blessing upside down, for his blessings do
not come to those who are trying to get a blessing, but to those who
understand that the kingdom of God is different from what we experience
now.  

A lot different.

I think most of us are with Woody Allen when he says,  
"I've been poor and I've been rich, and, believe me, rich is better." 

But Jesus says, 
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Think about the rules as we know them in this world.  
Don't they go something like this:

   -- Blessed are the rich, because they can buy what they want.
   -- Blessed are the strong, because they can take what they want.
   -- Blessed are winners, because they get the prize.
   -- Blessed are the talented, because they will be admired and loved by
   all.
    - Blessed are the educated, because they will be able to do whatever
   they want to do.
    - Blessed are the self confident, for they will be able to achieve
   what self-doubters cannot.

Yet Jesus says today: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
   righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  and "Blessed are
   you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of
   evil against you because of me." and "Blessed are those who mourn, for
   they will be comforted."

There is something weird going on here.... 

I mean it is all very nice to say that those who mourn are blessed because
they will be comforted.  And it is a thing full of hope to consider that if
you are persecuted because of your righteousness that you will inherit the
kingdom of heaven.

But who wants to mourn?   Who wants to be meek?   
   
And who wants to be shot to death in a church 
   or blown up in the street 
   or even nailed to a cross because of one's faith?

Who wants the blessing of God if it must come at such a price?

A parishioner of a friend of mine on the Internet once told him in a
discussion of the beatitudes:

   I feel strongly that I have correctly heard and followed the
   guidance of the Holy Spirit all my life, and never once did I hear
   the Spirit say, 'Be poor in spirit, mourn a lot, be meek, be
   persecuted for my sake and so forth and you will be thrice blessed.'

   Instead what I have heard is 'I didn't give you those special gifts
   to have you fritter them away, get out there and go for it, go do
   what I told you!  Oh yeah, and don't expect to be blessed for it.'

My friends - the beatitudes - those wonderful statements concerning who is
blessed or who will be blessed that begin the Sermon on the Mount - are not
prescriptions, they are descriptions.

Think about it.  What does God ask of you?  
The God who tells us:   "For it is by grace you have been saved, through
                        faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the
                        gift of God - not by works, so that no one can
                        boast.

What does God ask of us?

I think it is a lot closer to what my friend's parishioner had to say it
was than it is to those who would make the beatitudes a prescription for
how to live.

What does God ask of us?   
What does God require of us?

Micah tells us what God wants...  
"Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

That's it.  Nice and simple.

The problems we have in life is not so much with what it is God wants, but
with what it is that we want.

See if you can finish this sentence:  "I will be happy when...."  
There must be a million possible endings for that sentence...  

-- I will be happy when I grow up and move away from home.
-- I will be happy when summer comes and I don't have to go to school.
-- I will be happy when I fall in love and get married.
-- I will be happy when I can buy a new car.
-- I will be happy when I get promoted.
-- I will be happy when I retire.
  I will be happy when my aches and pains go away
-- I will be happy -- when they lay me to rest.

When will you be happy?  
What will it take?  
What are the chances that it's going to happen?  
How long will it be?  One year?  Five years?  Fifty years?  

We all want blessedness - happiness - comfort - and God promises these
things, some in this world, some in the world to come.

But what God wants is not for us to seek blessedness and happiness and
comfort; but rather, as Jesus says later in the Sermon on The Mount, God
wants us to seek His Kingdom and his Righteousness;
   or as it is written in the book of the Prophet Micah: to do justice
   and to love mercy and to walk humbly with him.

Oh, and by the way 
- the lonely and the sad and those who truly broken in Spirit; 
   - and the poor and the oppressed and those who are persecuted and
   beaten and killed for their faith; 
       - and those who seek to make peace and those who mourn how death has
       robbed them of goodness;
          - and all those who are overlooked by this world, those whom our
          advertisers never seek to sell anything to because they are
          losers;
these folk will be blessed in the kingdom of heaven;
these folk are the ones whom Christ has come to love and save;
the ones who he calls to us to love and help in his name, even now.

They will be blessed, they will be made happy, they will inherit the
kingdom of God 
   - not because they sought out persecution, not because they attempted
   to become poor in spirit, not because they willingly handed over their
   loved ones to death, not even because they worked to show mercy to
   those who so obviously don't deserve mercy 
   - but because they are open to the love of God, and because God wants
   them to have what the world has not given them, and cannot give them.

True joy.  True peace.  True blessedness.

You remember last week how Paul addressed the Corinthians and told them to
stop choosing sides, to stop saying that Peter and his team are better than
Paul and his team, or that Paul and his followers are more worthy than
Apollos and the folk who followed him, and instead to focus on the good
news revealed in Christ Jesus?

Well this week Paul goes on to remind them of the central truth of that
good news - of the truth that is found in the cross - which is foolishness
to those who perishing, but to those being saved is the power of God.

That truth is this:

   God has chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God
   chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose
   the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the
   things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one
   may boast before him.

The beatitudes are not a prescription, they are a description,
   a description of those who God favours 
       a description of what God does and will yet do 
for those who turn to him.

The beatitudes speak to us of a strength or joy which sees us through our
pain.
        
It is a joy which sorrow and loss, pain and grief are powerless to touch.

It is a joy which gives us the courage and strength to attempt to be
merciful, to be peacemakers, and to be pure in heart.
        
It is a joy which shines through tears and which nothing in life or death
can ever take away.

There will be winners and losers when the Super Bowl is played.

The world will acclaim the team that wins
   it will shower them with even more wealth and prestige than they have
   "earned" already.
   
And the losers all those teams who did not even make it the playoffs 
   they will be scorned - if not ignored - and among them you may be sure
   contracts will be allowed to expire and coaches will be fired, and
   there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth as ticket sales dry up and
   advertising revenues take a nose dive.

But today - in the kingdom of God - for those who follow the prescription
of God, the prescription to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with
Him there will only be winners.

They are not going to win the admiration of the media.
   They are not going to win a big raise in pay and get a gold ring put on
   their fingers.
They are not even going to feel "on top of the world".

But they will come to see God face to face.
   
And they will come to feel the power of God upholding them, upholding them
to that time when only peace is known, 
   that time when death is no more,
   that time when those who do not do justice or love mercy or walk humbly
with God will have perished in the fire of God's judgement.

Some of the winners in the kingdom of God will look like losers to the
world.

They will be pitied rather than loved.
They will be ignored rather than listened to.
They will be criticized rather than rewarded.

But what Paul reminds the Corinthians of in our reading this morning, and
what Jesus tells his disciples in the beatitudes, is that the world's
opinion and the world's priorities in these matters are irrelevant - - and
indeed they are wrong.

The blessed are not the ones who are motivated by blessings and who win
blessings by the strength of their hands or by the wisdom of their minds or
by the luck of their birth or by the chance of the lottery.

The blessed ones are the ones who seek God and who have God seek them.

There is a small cathedral outside Bethlehem marks the supposed birthplace
of Jesus.  Behind a high altar in the church is a cave, a little cavern lit
by silver lamps.  You can enter the main edifice and admire the ancient
church.  You can also enter the quiet cave where a star embedded in the
floor recognizes the birth of the King.  There is one stipulation, however. 
You have to stoop.  The door is so low you can't go in standing up.

The same is true of our life with Christ.  

We can see the world standing tall.  But to witness the Saviour we have to
be humble enough to get on our knees, humble enough to call out to him for
help and to do what he asks of us to do.

Blessed be God - our strength and our shield -  day by day.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Be Thou My Vision"                                       - VU 642


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
O Lord, we thank you that you near to those who are broken hearted and
close at hand to those who are crushed in Spirit.  We thank you that your
foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of humankind and your weakness
stronger than our strength.  We pray for those who do not know your mercy
and your compassion, that they may be drawn to eat and drink of you, and we
ask that all who are ensnared by the chains of fear and despair may come to
know the truth and the love that sets us free...  Lord, hear our prayer...

We praise You, O God, for Your Son, who poured out His life in service, 
that the light of His peace and joy may become realities for those in
darkness..  Forgive us, Lord, for our immaturity that makes us want to be
receivers of His light without being messengers of his grace.  May the
testimony of our lives reflect the brightness of our Saviour's love to
those who are poor, those who are oppressed -  to those who need the
brightness of Your light and glory...  Lord, hear our prayer....  

Give us, O God, patience to speak good news to those who oppose us, and to
help those who may rage against us, so that, following in the way of your
Son, we may rejoice even when rejected, trusting in Your 
perfect love which never fails...  Lord, hear our prayer...

We pray, O God, for the well being - physical, emotional, social, and
spiritual of the world around us.  We think of those who are sick - those
who are vulnerable, those who are alone  - and we ask your blessing upon
them....  We think too of our governments and our corporations and of the
need for justice and mercy in the affairs of all nations and amongst all
peoples...  We think of the pain of the earth - and of the promise you have
made to one day restore the glory that the world knew at first....  Lord,
hear our prayer...

We pray, O God, for those we have named before you today as congregation -
a community - of your people - and for those whose names even now are
coming to our hearts and our minds....  Bidding Prayer.... Lord, hear our
prayer...

We thank you O God for your blessings upon those who are afflicted, those
who mourn, those who are humble and those who seek your kingdom.  We rest,
ourselves, O God, in thee.  Do we pray, as you will.  Bring to life in us
the fullness of the gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord and transform the
poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace.  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

       Gracious God - you have blessed us in so many ways - and show
       that even when we are weak - in you we are made strong and
       even when we have little we have much.    Receive our gifts
       and the offerings of our hearts and our hands - our words and
       our deeds - that your work may be done in the world - and
       that our joy may be made complete in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
       Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee"               - VU 560


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.

                      
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
and may the blessings of the God who made you fill you,
- may his love fill you and flow forth from you,
- may his power touch you and reach out from you,
- may his wisdom lead you and shine brightly around you,
both now and for evermore.  Amen


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


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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