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Sermon (3) and Liturgy for Ordinary 23 - Proper 18 - Year A
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
"Our Continuing Debt"


READING:  Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
SERMON :  "Our Continuing Debt"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or23sx 994000
                  
   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:  With only very minor changes, the children's story is from
   Charles Kirkpatrick, www.Sermons4Kids.com, "Message for Ordinary 23,
   Year A", as sent to the PRCL List in September 2002.
 

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP  (Based on Psalm 149:1-6)
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  Sing to God a new song.  
P  Give praise to the Lord in the assembly of the faithful.
L  Let Israel rejoice in their Maker.  Let the children of Zion be glad in
   their King.
P  Let them praise God's name with dancing 
   and make music to him with tambourine and harp.
L  The Lord takes delight in his people,
   he crowns the humble with salvation.
P  Let the saints rejoice in this honour,
   and sing for joy both day and night,
   may the praise of God be in their mouths.
   

* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Loving God - we thank you for how you hold our hand as we learn how to walk
in your path and for your  tender love and mercy that support us in the
steps we take.  As we meet together before you today we ask that you would
continue to forgive us those things that we have done amiss and guide us by
the power of your living word to live more like Christ Jesus your Son.  May
our song, our prayer, our speaking, our listening, our thinking and our
doing give you glory, both now and forevermore.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Jesus, Stand Among Us"                                      - 396


CHILDREN'S TIME   "One Plus One Equals Three"
Object:   Flash Cards with questions and answers
Theme:    When we gather in Jesus' name he will be there with us. 
          (Matthew 18:20)
Source:   With only very minor changes, this is from Charles Kirkpatrick,
          www.Sermons4Kids.com, "Message for Ordinary 23, Year A", as sent
          to the PRCL List in September 2002.

Good morning.  It is back to school time!  All around the world, children
have either already started back to school or they will very soon.  As
someone who teaches I can tell you that one thing that is very important
for a teacher to find out is what their students already know.  That way,
they will know where they should start in teaching them what they should
know.

I was wondering if it might be a good idea for our Sunday School teachers
to give a little quiz to find out how much their students know about the
Bible?  As an experiment, I made up a sample quiz to try out on you this
morning.  Are you ready?  I will ask a question, and if you know the
answer, raise your hand.
 
How many of each animal did Moses take on the ark with him?  (allow time
for answers)   Let's turn the card over and check our answer.  "None!"   

I thought the answer was two.  Oh, that's right, it was Noah that built the
ark, not Moses.

Here is question number two.  Are automobiles mentioned in the Bible? 
Let's check our answer.  "Yes, in Acts 2:1"   Let's see what it says in
Acts 2:1...  "When the day of Pentecost was come, they were all in one
accord."  Hey! I don't think it is talking about an automobile there!

Those first two questions were trick questions, weren't they?  

Well, I promise you that the next question is not a trick question.   Here
it is: According to the Bible, can one plus one ever equal three?   Let's
check our answer....  "Yes."!!

How can that be?  The answer is in the Bible.  Jesus said, "For where two
or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  Oh, I see, if
two are gathered in Jesus' name, Jesus is there with them -- so one plus
one equals three.

Look around this room.  I'm not sure exactly how many people are here this
morning, but whatever the number is, you can add One to it, because Jesus
is here too.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Let us pray.....  Dear Lord Jesus - we thank you for being here this
   morning - as we gather to worship you - and to learn about your
   love.  Bless our time together in your name - and help us  become
   more like you.   Amen

And in the word's of Jesus who taught us to pray together as one family...

   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:   "Jesus Loves Me"                                         - VU 365


SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SPECIAL MATTERS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries     
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD    (verse 2 - VU 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 they will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM EZEKIEL 33:7-11
   (NIV)  "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of
   Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 

   When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and
   you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man
   will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 
   But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does
   not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved
   yourself.

   "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are
   saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting
   away because of them.  How then can we live?"' 

   Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I
   take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they
   turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways! 
   Why will you die, O house of Israel?'


RESPONSIVE READING:  Psalm 95 (VU 814) & the 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 ever shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen


A READING FROM ROMANS 13:8-14
   (NIV) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to
   love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the
   law.  

   The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not
   steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be,
   are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." 
   Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the
   fulfilment of the law.  And do this, understanding the present time. 
   The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our
   salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is
   nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds
   of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently,
   as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual
   immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather,
   clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about
   how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

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

 
*  HYMN:  "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love"                     - VU 593


A READING FROM MATTHEW 18:15-20
   (NIV) "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault,
   just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won
   your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two
   others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the
   testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to
   them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the
   church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 

   "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in
   heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
 
   "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything
   you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For
   where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

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


SERMON:  "Our Continuing Debt" 

   O Lord, we pray, speak in the calming of our minds and in the
   longings of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts
   that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen.  Amen.

Paul writes in our epistle reading for today:  

       Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to
       love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has
       fulfilled the law. 

How do we do that?  How do we love another and so fulfil the law?

Paul tells us that love does no harm to it's neighbour
and he urges us to look about and see that our salvation is nearer now than
when we first believed,
   that the night is nearly over and the day is almost here
and to put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light,
   and to refrain from orgies and drunkenness,
   from sexual immorality and debauchery
   and from dissension and jealousy;
he tells us that we should cloth ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,
that we should let Jesus be closer to us than the clothing we wear,
and to not think about how to gratify the desires of our sinful nature.

The hymn we sang before the Gospel reading also suggests that we should be
like Jesus, 
   and that with his love filling us we should kneel and wash the feet our
   friends, our neighbours, 
       whether they be rich or poor, near or far, or black or white or
       something in-between.

I am sure that you can all think of some practical ways of loving your
friends and neighbours
   - everything from not harming them through actions motivated by seeking
   to satisfy our own desires (which you might call passive loving because
   it focuses on what we don't do)
   - to reaching out actively in love - through random acts of kindness
   and deliberate acts of service.

You know how important the listening ear and the affirming word is to those
who are troubled.

You know how wonderful it is to have someone come and help you with tasks
that need doing.

You know how good it is to have folk who selflessly volunteer hours of work
for the church and for community projects so that the people of God can
fulfill their mission and the community around us can be a place of nurture
and care.

Love can be shown, and needs to be shown, in many ways.  
It is what we owe to others.  It is what we owe to God.

Today I want you to think of one of the obligations of the love that we owe
to others on account of the love that God has for us.  One of the more
difficult obligations - but one that is of great importance to us - and to
God.  And that is our obligation to warn our brothers and sisters of the
danger that threatens them on account of their sin - our obligation to
speak the word that God gives us so that they might turn back from the path
that leads to death to the one that leads to life.

Listen to a portion of the first reading again:

   "Son of Man", says the Lord, "I have made you a watchman for the
   house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from
   me.   When I say to the wicked, "O wicked man, you will surely die,
   and you do not speak out to dissuade him from this ways, that wicked
   man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his
   blood.   But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and
   he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved
   yourself.

And hear too again the first portion of this morning's Gospel:

   "If your brother or sister sins against you, go and show them their
   fault, just between the two of you..  If they listen to you, you
   have won them over, but if they will not listen, take one or two
   others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the
   testimony of two or three witnesses'.  If they refuse to listen to
   them, tell it to the church, and if they refuse to listen even to
   the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector."

How difficult it can be do to do this
and to do it in the way we are supposed to do it  
- to do it in love.

One of the best items to appear in newspapers around North America over the
last few years is the column by Dr. James Dobson called "Focus on The
Family".  Dr Dobson is a deeply spiritual man with a gift from God of
counsel and advice about how to treat one's children and one's marriage
partner.

In the Calgary Sun a few months ago this question or comment concerning
marriage counselling was directed at him.  The reader wrote:

   If you were a counsellor who was helping someone manage a crisis
   situation, your recommendations to exercise tough love could
   potentially kill the marriage.  Doesn't that make you nervous?  
   Have you ever regretted taking a family in this direction?

Dr. Dobson replied:

   You need to understand how I see my situation.  My role is similar
   to that of surgeon who tells a patient that he needs a coronary
   artery bypass operation.  The man sits in his doctor's office
   hearing the probabilities of success and failure.  "If you undergo
   this operation," the doctor says, "research shows that you'll have a
   three percent chance of not surviving the surgery."  Wow...  Three
   out of every hundred people who submit to the knife will die!  Why
   would anyone run that risk voluntarily?  Because the chances of
   death are far greater without the surgery.   

   The love must be tough - confrontations and ultimatums are like
   that.   They may result in the sudden demise of a relationship.  But
   without the crisis, there is a much higher probability of a
   lingering death.  Instead of bringing the matter to a head while
   there is a chance for healing, the alternative is to stand by while
   the marriage dies with a whimper.  I'd rather take my chances today
   (writes Doctor Dobson) before further damage is done.

Think about that and how it applies to the word from God to the prophet
Ezekiel today and to the word that Jesus gave to his followers.

So often we think of the continuing debt of love that we owe in terms of
the kind of passive and active acts of caring that I mentioned earlier - in
terms of those negative things we should not do and of all those positive
things we should do.

But as Dobson's column and our readings point out 
- sometimes, in love, we need to warn and to confront others -
- not to beat them up
- not to delight in pointing out wrong
- not to vindicate ourselves as the aggrieved party or to exalt ourselves
as  the righteous bystander
- not to assign blame or fault as a way of seeking retribution or
punishment
but to sound the alarm
so that both the individual and the community may be saved.

Listen again to what God says through the Prophet Ezekiel later in today's
reading:

   'As surely as I live', declares the Sovereign Lord, 'I take no
   pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from
   their ways live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!, Why will you
   die, O House of Israel?'

If we are really to fulfil our continuing debt of love for one another,
we must warn them when they are sinning against God and their neighbours,
and seek to win them back to the way that leads to life.

We are called to do this privately - and in love - with those who have
sinned against us within our families and our churches - there is to be no
pointing fingers here, no shouting from the rooftops, no gossip, no
accusations, no desire for retribution - we are to seek the life, the well
being, of those who have sinned against us in each step that we take - not
their death, nor their banishment from our midst.   

That is why Jesus outlines a very slow and deliberate procedure of
confronting others with their sin.

And as for our public stance - our preaching and our teaching within the
larger community:  again we are not called to render our own judgements
upon the world, but rather to communicate what the word of God is and God's
desire that the guilty should turn and live rather than continue on in
their sin and die.

There was a poll taken in 2002 near the first anniversary of September 911
regarding the degree of responsibility that our fellow Canadians think that
the American Government has for the tragic events of 911.  Slightly over
sixty percent of Canadians thought that American foreign policy is
partially responsible for the attacks upon New York and Washington - while
about twenty percent each felt that the American Government was either
entirely with - or without - responsibility.

What is served by such judgements made in such a way?  
Who is served?  
Who is loved?

The word of God that has come to me is not who is to blame, but rather how
can we act - so that new life can rise from the ashes and so that these
kinds of acts are less likely to happen again.

The cross of Jesus Christ tells me that there is judgement coming upon all
people

It is a judgement of mercy to those who would be merciful
   and a judgement of wrath upon those who would be wrathful.

It is a judgement of life to those who seek to love God with all their
heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbours as themselves
   and a judgement of death to those who would love only their own people
   and their own selves.

Assigning percentages and getting into the details of blame and guilt don't
help us make peace in our own families, nor does it make for peace in our
Church - and it certainly doesn't help the nations of our world to change
their ways.

Only by our understanding our present time - only by waking up from our
slumber and making payments on our continuing debt to love one another -
only by recalling what is at stake and working to bring the love of Christ
- the living and active Word of God - to everyone around us - to saints and
sinners alike - can we fulfill the law of God and ensure that we are ready
when the day of salvation breaks upon us.

How can we know when the day of salvation is breaking upon us?  That we are
moving beyond the night time of terror and deeds that lead to death?  

A rabbi once asked his students a similar question about how you can know
when night has ended and the day has come..

   One said, it's when you can tell a palm tree from a fig tree.

   No, said the rabbi.

   Another said, it's when you can tell a sheep from a goat.

   No, said the rabbi.

   Another said, it's when you can tell a rabbit from a dog.

   No, said the rabbi.

   The students were puzzled and had no more answers.

   And the rabbi said: "It is daylight when you can look into the face
   of another human being and recognize that he or she is your brother
   or sister.  Until then, he said, it is night."

Let us gather ourselves together for prayer - first in silence - then by
our singing our prayer song.


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE   (Rx - And In Your Love Answer  Singing #400 at
                        the start and the end of the prayer time)

          Lord, listen to your children praying.
          Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          send us love, send us power, send us grace!

Various prayers of thanksgiving, intercession and petition.....

These things we ask in Jesus' name.  Amen

          Lord, listen to your children praying.
          Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
          Lord, listen to your children praying,
          send us love, send us power, send us grace!


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

   Loving God - receive our gifts for your work in this Congregation
   and through it for your work in the world.  Accept them - and accept
   all the intentions, thoughts, words and actions as part of our
   continuing debt to love one another and to proclaim your glory. 
   Amen.


* DEPARTING HYMN:   "For The Healing Of The Nations"                       


* 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 the name of Christ Jesus,
   - and the love of God embrace you and give you a holy peace and an
   everlasting joy,
   - may the wisdom of God guide you and protect you,
   - may the compassion of God fill you and flow forth from you,
   - and may the strength of God uphold you,
for ever and ever.  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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