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Sermon For Ordinary 26 - Proper 21 - Year A
Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
"God Is In Us - To Will And To Work"


READING:  Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
SERMON :  "God Is In Us - To Will and To Work"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or26sm.y-a 507 
                  
   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.

   
Where do you look for God?

Many people look for Him in nature -
in the still quiet places. away from the maddening crowds -
and they find Him there.

Bliss Carmen's poem VESTIGIA continues to be popular because
it speaks of this experience.

         I took a day to search for God
         and found him not.  But as I trod 
         by rocky ledge, thru woods untamed,
         Just where one scarlet lily flamed,
         I saw his footprint in the sod.

         Then suddenly, all unaware, 
         far off in the deep shadows 
         where a solitary hermit thrush 
         sang thru the holy twilight hush -
         I heard his voice upon the air.

         And even as I marvelled how God 
         gives us heaven here and now,
         In a stir of wind that hardly shook 
         the popular leaves beside the brook,
         His hand was light upon my brow.

         At last with evening as I turned homeward,
         and thought what I had learned 
         and all that there was still to probe -
         I caught the glory of his robe,
         Where the last fires of sunset burned.

         Back to the world with quickening start
         I looked and longed for any part
         in making saving Beauty be...
         And from that kindling ecstasy
         I knew God dwelt within my heart.

Fully alive Christians know how to find God - they find Him
and are refreshed by his presence because they do what Jesus
did:
         - they slow down - they step back from the daily rush
         and take time apart
         - they go away for a while in prayer and contemplation
         - they read the word, they worship with their brothers
         and sisters
         - they go up on the mountain and listen to the wind 
         - they go to the ocean and feel the spray from the waves
and then in faith they claim what they see and hear and
experience and return to the daily bustle, renewed, and able
to affirm one of the central truths of our faith, the truth
that God dwells within our hearts.

But what about others?
what about those who cannot get away from it all?
what about those who are caught in the midst of stress and
hunger and want,
and who, if they have ever known God, cannot remember his
grace and mercy?

How are they to find God?
How are they to rediscover that he dwells within to will and
work for his good pleasure?

Many Christians do not think enough about this issue.
         - They do not consider that most other people do not
         experience what they experience or see what they see.
         - They forget to share the power that is in their lives
         and to show others that it dwells within them as well.
         - They judge others for their faith or lack of faith,
         rather than serving them, as Christ serves them.

In today's Old Testament reading we see that Moses walked
the line in this regard.

When the people of Israel reached Rephidim during their
wilderness wandering they were thirsty - and they quarrelled
with Moses, saying: "Give us water to drink."

Moses replied to them in a manner that at first was not all
that helpful,
         indeed it seems to me, no matter how accurate his
         perception of his people may of been, 
         that he is hostile in his response:

Moses answers their request for water, not by helping them
not by promising them that God will support them,
but by saying: "Why do quarrel with me?  
Why do you test the Lord?"

Moses denies responsibility for the well being of his
brothers and sisters and, not surprisingly, the people really
become agitated, and they complain all the more against 
Moses, accusing him of bringing them out of Egypt to die 
of thirst.. 

And why shouldn't have they?  
         - Moses, after all, was the one who spoke for God 
         before Pharaoh, 
         - Moses was the one who communicated God's law
         and love to them 
         -it was through Moses that they knew God, 
yet in his response to them he seems not to care about their
troubles - it seems that his God doe not care about their
troubles.

We, my friends, are ambassadors for Christ,
It says in II Corinthians, chapter five, that God makes his
appeal to others through us.

How can God do this if we deny any responsibility for others
If we accuse, rather than help?  If we blame, rather than
care?

It is only after Moses cries out to God for help in dealing
with people,
         and then in obedience to what God says to him gathers
         together the elders of Israel 
         and takes them to the rock and strikes it with his staff
          that we see another side to the issue.  We see
          water pour out from a rock.

And we see, all these centuries later - the people of Israel
remembering this act, we see them remembering how God's
power worked in and through Moses and celebrating the
faithfulness of God in word and song, a song that they have
taught to their children for over 3000 years:
         In the daytime God led us with a cloud,
         and all night long with a fiery light.
         He split rocks open in the wilderness,
         and gave us drink abundantly as from the deep.
         He made streams come out of the rock,
         and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

Do we give two cents about what happens to others?
         Are we willing to trust the God that dwells within us,
         and to show that his loving power is in us by what we
         say and do?
         
Are we willing to show that the God we claim that is in us
really cares about others? 

That is the issue in all of today's scripture readings,
- from Moses showing and sharing the power of God that dwelt
within him,
- to Jesus speaking about the authority by which he taught and
healed and helped others,
- to Paul in the letter to the Philippian's telling us what
kind of attitude we should have.

 God is in us- We have the power
         - We have the spirit
         - We have the promises
         - We have the way and the truth and the life
         - It is all ours....praise God!

So what are we going to do with it?

Are we going to be like Moses before he talked to God?  
Or like Moses after he talked to God?

Are we going to be like the son who told his father he would
work in the vineyard, but did not - 
or like the son who told his father he would not work, but
later repented and did his father's will?

I started by asking - how are others to find God?  How are
they who are living in the midst of stress and need, or they
who have not experienced or who cannot remember the deeds of
God, to discover that the power of God is for them, and
indeed within them, to will and work for his good pleasure?

I think the answer lies in remembering how it is that God
treats us; in remembering who Jesus Christ is and what he
has done for us.

Those of you here who know what it means to be born again,
those of you who know in your hearts the meaning of the song
"Amazing Grace"
should know how to share the power of God -
you should know how to show others the God who lives in you
and who lies hidden within them.

You start by caring for and loving those around you without
regard for how little or how much others may think that they
deserve that love and care.

William H. Willimon, in his book "On A Wild And Windy
Mountain" describes something of what it means to care when
he tells the story of a woman whom he calls a saint.  He
writes:

         I think of a woman who was my lay leader in North
         Myrtle Beach.  She would hardly have qualified for
         the popular definition of 'saint'.  Her methods were
         unorthodox, her theology was never apparent, her
         language was often sprinkled with words not often
         heard in church.  But she knew about the world.  She
         also had gotten the idea that God expected her to be
         busy in the world in his behalf.  Feeling herself
         chosen, she acted this way.

         One day she was cruising down Ocean Boulevard when a
         local policeman stopped the care of a youth in front
         of her.  She had seen this tactic before.  She knew
         that the city supported itself, in great part, on the
         fines of youthful tourists whom the police preyed
         upon to enrich the city coffers.  She stopped her car
         behind that of the policeman.

         "Can I help you, Miss Peggy?", asked the offer as he
         stepped from his car.

         "Yes.  Why did you stop that boy's car?" she asked.

         "I stopped him because he was speeding," he replied. 
         "It's really none of your business."

         "Well, I'm making it my business," she snapped.  "I
         am sick and tired of you people busting these kids
         for minor violations.  If he was speeding, I was
         speeding.  I was going the same speed as he was.  You
         stopped him because he has long hair and an out of
         state license plate."

         By this time the boy was out of his car with a
         confused look on his face.  His presence exasperated
         the patrolman who was now shouting at Peggy.  "Look,
         you had better stay out of this.  This is none of
         your concern.  I'm pulling this kid for a traffic
         violation and this is none of your business."

         Peggy was undeterred.  "I told you it is my business. 
         It's not right and you know it.  Let's just go down
         to the station and talk this over..."

         "What's the trouble, officer?" the bewildered youth
         asked.

         The policeman did not answer.  He jumped into his
         patrol car, slammed the door while muttering
         something about "smart mouth women," and squealed off
         in anger.

         "Son, be careful.  Slow down and be careful," Peggy
         said as she started her car and drove on."

"This," Willimon concludes, "is how saints are made.... 
Saints are made by listening to the call of God and saying,
yes...".

A slightly unorthodox method of showing care - certainly, 
just as was the care Jesus showed unorthodox -but the
important thing is: care was shown, and the youth involved
discovered that grace exists - that it lives even in the
hearts of strangers.  He learned something about God in
other words, about how God operates.

God is within us to will and work his good pleasure.

And God's pleasure is that all people would know him as love
and that all people would care for one another as brothers
and sisters.

When we have the mind of Christ in us,
- when we care to show his love to others rather than to 
  judge them,
- when we are willing to do as he did and serve one
  another freely and without reserve or condition,
then we will know his glory 
- the glory of he at whose name every knee shall bow,
  and we will rejoice,
for we and those around us will have found the only God 
that matters.

We will have found not only the God who makes us feel good
when we go up on a mountain to pray - we will have found the
God who wills to bring water out of rock, and food from
heaven - the God who provides for his people and calls all
people unto him;
the God of Abraham and of Sarah, of Moses and of Mary,
the God who is in you and me - to will and to work his good
pleasure.  Amen.


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1996 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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