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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 31 - Proper 26 - Year B
Hebrews 9:11-14, Psalm 146; Mark 12:28-34
"Not Far From The Kingdom of God"


READING:  Hebrews 9:11-14, Psalm 146; Mark 12:28-34  
SERMON :  "Not Far From The Kingdom of God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or31sn.y-b 750000
 
   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.
   
   Stories within the sermon were found in various places, including
   notes from Ecunet's "Sermonshop" by marilyn.allen@ecunet.org,
   1997-11-02 note 41; church.of.the.redeemer@ecunet.org, 1997-10-26
   note 107; and rmac@ecunet.org, 1997-11-02B note 13.  The
   beginning phrase of the Eucharistic Prayer is from the United 
   Church of Canada resource, Celebrate God's Presence.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP:
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,  
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    We gather this day to thank God for watching over us and for
     protecting us.
P    We come this day to worship God 
     and to seek God's guidance and to listen for God's word.
L    We meet this day with prayer and with song 
     and with the sounds of praise. 
P    We come seeking to better love God 
     with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength 
     and to better love our neighbours as ourselves.
L    Let us ask God to bless us and grant us that which we seek.


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


* PRAYER OF APPROACH 
Loving God, this day we call you to be around us, for your power to dwell
among us - the power to hold and the power to love, the power to give and
the power to receive,  to power to see and the power to make, the power to
hear and the power to care.  Indeed, grant us faith that is able to
transfigure us - and light not only the mountain tops - but the deepest
valleys as well.  Oh, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer - be with us and help
us offer to you the true worship of your kingdom.  We ask it in Jesus's
name.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Lord, Speak To Me"                                       - VU 589


CHILDREN'S TIME: "What You See, What God Sees"
Theme     God sees the whole person - not just the noticeable stuff
Object    Ashes For Smudging
Source    Self and Archetypical Tale of Paper and Spot

Good morning....

Today I want you to take a good look at me.  What do you see????   Many
different descriptions right???  Some about clothing, some about personal
appearance, some about what I do.

Now - I want you to look at this.  (Produce Smudge and Ashes). This is
Ashes for smudging -- which is a ceremony that is performed to bring purity
- to mark out special things -- to call upon God.  In the faith which we as
Christians have, Smoke and Fire and Ashes also hold special meaning.  Ashes
are seen as symbolic of grief and sorrow - some of those griefs and sorrows
being about how badly we have behaved - and how sorry we are to have hurt
others.  Ashes are also the signs of our sorrow for those who no longer
live with us.

Now (Smudge your forehead) -- what do you see????

Just about everybody sees the ashes -- not like the first time when you all
saw different things.  But all those  different things are still there to
be seen.   But you looked at the "ashes" - and so missed that other stuff
this time around.  

You know that happens in life all the time?  People do something different,
or they look different, than we expect and we sometimes make a big fuss
about it -- sometimes because of that spot on them - we forget all about
how much they are like us -- and sometimes we treat those people like
strangers - because they look different.

But our God always sees us -- all of us - not just the spots -- and God
always treats us like his own special family -- no matter how we look --
and no matter what we have done. 

Look at Me Now --- What Do You See???  (Make Faces. Smile. Cause laughter)

God sees even more -- and God loves me - and God loves you...


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
    Let us pray -- Loving God - we thank you for seeing all of us -
    and for loving us - right through the ashes and the dirt - that
    sometimes stick to us, -  Amen

    And together....

    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	


* CHILDREN'S HYMN  "l Love To Tell The Story"                      - VU 343


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- 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 thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM HEBREWS 9:11-14
     (NIV) When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are
     already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle
     that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.
     He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but
     he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having
     obtained eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the
     ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean
     sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more,
     then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered
     himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that
     lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

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


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 146 (VU page 868 & Refrain Sung) 


A READING FROM MARK 12:28-34
     (NIV)  One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.
     Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of
     all the commandments, which is the most important?" 
	 
     "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, 
     the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your
     heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your
     strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'
     There is no commandment greater than these." 

     "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that 
     God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your 
     heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to 
     love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt
     offerings and sacrifices." 
	 
     When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are 
     not far from the kingdom of God."  
	 
     And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

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


* HYMN:  "Teach Me God To Wonder"                                  - VU 299


SERMON: "Not Far From The Kingdom of God"
                   
     Let us Pray - Nurturing God - we do not live by bread alone but by
     every word that comes from you mouth.  Make us hungry for this
     heavenly food and pour it down upon us - that the words of my lips and
     the meditations of our hearts may draw us closer to thee and lead us
     to walk in the way of life.  Amen

As we meditate today on God's word - that word found in the gospel reading
wherein we see a scribe, a teacher of the law, ask Jesus which of the
commandments of God was first of all - most important of all, I want you to
think not only about Jesus' answer - the answer that goes (as we read in
verse 29)

     "Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love
     the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
     and with all your mind, and with all your strength - and - you
     shall love your neighbour as yourself"

but I want you to think as well about the Scribe's response to Jesus reply. 
About how the Scribe affirms Jesus and the truth of God by saying:

     "You are right teacher.... this is much more important than all
     whole burnt offerings and sacrifices"

and how then Jesus recognizes the wisdom of the scribe and says to him, as
he says to no other teacher of the law, to no other scribe that we have
record of in this book:

     "You are not far from the kingdom of God"

What interesting words these are...
You are not far from the kingdom of God.

I thought about these words all this week.  And the more I thought about
them the more I wondered and marvelled at them.

What interesting words - when applied to a scribe - when applied to a
member of a class of persons that so often are portrayed negatively in the
gospels. 
- to that class of persons so many of us have been taught were 
     more concerned about the letter of the law than the spirit;
     more concerned with observance than with the motivation behind
     observance.  

It just goes to show that there is wisdom in the law of God
and that those who study it - can find the truth within it;
- the truth that love is more important than sacrifice
and that mercy is more important than burnt offerings,
and that these things are that from which all laws worthy of the name flow.

You are not far from the Kingdom of God.
You who really try to do what is right.
You who believe that God is One and that God is Good 
- and that to love him and your neighbour as yourself is what God's will
for us is all about.

You are not far from the Kingdom of God.

Good words to hear from the teacher
from the one who bears the Kingdom within his very being
and radiates the light of that kingdom for all to see.

Yet - yet in the words "not far" - it is possible also to hear that "there
is some distance yet to go", that we are on the right track - but we have
not yet arrived.

In a park in Europe, so I have been told, next to a beautiful flower bed,
there is a sign, written in three languages:  

In German the sign says:  Picking flowers is prohibited. 
In English:  Please do not pick the flowers. 
In French:  Those who love flowers will not pick them. 

It seems to me that in this sign lies part of the key as to what
distinctions of distance we might read into Jesus' statement: 
"You are not far from the kingdom of God".

What is our motivation for doing God's will, obeying God's commands?  Fear
of authority?  A desire for God's approval?  And the approval of others? 
Or love? 

What in fact does it mean "to love God"?
What does it mean "to love our neighbours as ourselves?"

One wonders - at least this one does - one wonders when looking at the
scribe in today's reading if he lacked a little something in his passion
and in his understanding of the law of God?  If perhaps there was a little
bit too much duty and routine in his life of obedience and not quite enough
eagerness and passion?  A bit too much holiness - of being apart from the
world - and not quite the right amount of compassion and of empathy?

Whatever it is - if there is anything - that implies a sense of distance
between the scribe and the Kingdom of God -- in a most profound sense it
does not matter; it is enough most surely for him, and for us, to hear the
words "you are not far from the kingdom of God".

You of sincere heart and sincere purpose
you who believe and who try to do what is right
you who try to love as God wants you to love
are not far from the kingdom of God.

A story:

     A thoughtful, curious young man went to the desert to visit an
     elderly man, a monk, who had lived in the desert for many years.

     Arriving at the holy man's cave, the young man encountered the
     monk, who was sitting out enjoying the sun, his dog lying lazily
     at his side. 

     This spiritual seeker asked, "Why is it, teacher, that some who
     seek God come to the desert and are zealous in prayer, but leave
     after a year or so, while others, like you, remain faithful to
     the quest for a lifetime?" 

     The old man smiled and replied, "Let me tell you a story. One day
     I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a
     large, white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, my dog
     jumped up, barking loudly, and took off after that big rabbit. He
     chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion. Soon other dogs
     ran barking across the creeks, up stony embankments, and through
     thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other
     dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and
     frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue
     the white rabbit. In that story, young man, is the answer to your
     question. 

     The young man sat in confused silence. Finally, he said,
     "Teacher, I don't understand. What is the connection between the
     rabbit chase and the quest for God?" 

     "You fail to understand," answered the old hermit, "because you
     failed to ask the obvious question. The question is, why didn't
     the other dogs continue the chase? And the answer to that
     question is that the other dogs had not seen the rabbit.  They
     were attracted by the barking of my dog.  But once you see the
     rabbit, you will never give up the chase.  Seeing the rabbit, 
     and not following the commotion, is what keeps me in the desert." 

"Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord
Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
mind, and with all your strength - and - you shall love your neighbour as
yourself"

You shall love.

Shall love??  How can we not love?  How can we who have seen the white
rabbit do anything else but chase after it!  And how can we who have only
heard the commotion and smelled the scent not avoid the temptation of
giving up the chase?

Sincere and deep commitment to the commands of God, 
to the command to love - 
versus the eager desire to return the affection and the love that we have
experienced from God - to God and to what God has made.

There is a distinction here.  But it is not one to become anxious about
unless you are about to give up chasing the rabbit.

When Jesus speaks to the scribe and affirms his wisdom and his insight,
when Jesus tells him that he is very near to the kingdom of God,
he is talking to all of us who strive to follow in the way of God,
to all who seek to walk by God's light and to do good rather than evil.

He is telling us such folk draw close to the kingdom of God even when they
do not use the name that we here in this church use - even when they do not
name the name of Jesus - and even when they do not understand the fullness
of God's mercy for them in Jesus.

But how much better to have seen the rabbit;  how much better to allow
God's love for us in Christ to penetrate our hearts and to well up from
inside us.

I urge you today as you consider the greatest of all the commandments and
as you think about the words of Jesus to the scribe "you are not far from
the kingdom of God"; 
     I urge you to not hear those commandments as if God's love for you 
     depended on your fulfilling them but rather to hear what a wonderful
     place you have come to in your pursuit of righteousness
          and how much more wonderful it will be as your love grows ever
          more perfect through the Spirit that is alive in you.

God loves you and God calls you to draw close to him so that you may know
the fullness of his love.  In the strength of that love - love as deeply
and as passionately and as truly as did Jesus.

Blessed be God Day by Day, AMEN


THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We give you thanks today, O God, for your word of acceptance and approval
for the scribe who understand that loving you and loving our neighbours as
ourselves was more important that all burnt offerings and sacrifices and
shows of piety and religion - even those offerings and sacrifices and
demonstrations that you have commanded.  We thank you Lord, because your
word to him gives us hope for ourselves - the hope that we are indeed on
the right track when we strive to love you with our whole heart, soul, mind
and strength, and our neighbours as ourselves - the hope that we are in
fact near to you and to the fullness of your kingdom...  Lord, hear our
prayer....

Lord, we pray for those who are caught up in the letter of the law  rather
than in the spirit of love, for those who seek advantage and gain for
themselves physically or spiritually  - rather than opening their hearts to
you and to their brothers and sisters in this world.   Grant them inner
knowledge of your love for them and for the whole world - and draw them -
and indeed us -  nearer to you, nearer to your kingdom; indeed cause them
and us to find that kingdom bubbling up within us as springs of water
bubble up through the ground...  Lord hear our prayer....

We remember O God today the special needs within our community - those joys
and concerns upon our hearts - the joy of celebration - and the concern of
illness, want, and need.  We remember before and pray for...  BIDDING
PRAYER....  Lord, hear our prayer

Lord - for all these - and for all our world - we pray for the fire and the
dance, the peace and the laughter, the passion and the joy of having not
only drawn near to your Kingdom - but of having entered it - for not only
having tasted your goodness - but having being filled.  Bless all O God who
seek you -- we ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  The Offering Is Received and as it is presented
all stand for The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU
#541) and the Prayer of Dedication

     We bring our gifts to you, O God.  The gifts you first gave us. 
     Here is the labour of our hands, here is the love of our hearts. 
     Accept and use them, through Christ our Lord.  Amen


* SHARING THE PEACE:  We greet those around us with a sign of peace
     (handshakes or hugs) and words like "The peace of the Lord be with
     you".  This ancient tradition is an appropriate response to the peace
     that God gives to those who hear and do his word. 


* COMMUNION HYMN: "I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say"                 - VU 626


COMMUNION LITANY
L    The peace of the Lord be with you.
P    And also with you
L    Lift up your hearts.
P    We lift them up to the Lord.
L    Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P    It is right to give God thanks and praise.


THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER & THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION
Blessed are you, gracious God, Creator of light, Giver of all life, Source
of Love.  You guide the sun, cradle the moon, and toss the stars.  At your
word the earth was made and spun on its course among the planets.  You
breathe life into us and set us among all your creatures, in a covenant of
love and service.  Even when we turn from you, you do not forsake us.  You
send your prophets to proclaim your justice, to remind us of your promise
of peace, and to call us back to you.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit, we praise you for your love revealed to us in
Jesus and by Jesus, who walks with us, our Wisdom and our Way, sharing our
joy and sorrow, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and
setting the captives free.

Mighty and tender God, in Jesus of Nazareth we recognize the fullness of
your grace - the breadth and depth of your love -- the transforming power
of your living word.  

And so it is today that we set this table before you - and remember how on
the night of his betrayal - the eve of his death, that when Jesus ate with
his disciples - with those he called his friends - he took bread, and after
blessing it - as we now bless this bread - the fruit of your earth O God 
he broke it and gave it to them saying "Take, eat, this is my body, given
for you."  And we remember too, Jesus took the cup, the cup of blessing,
and after giving thanks -- as we thank you now O God for this cup that you
give - he passed it to his friends saying, "Take and drink, this is my
blood, poured out for you, a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you do this do it in remembrance of me."


PROCLAMATION OF FAITH, INVOCATION OF THE SPIRIT
L    Loving God, we rejoice in the gift of your grace, remembering Christ's
     life and death, proclaiming his resurrection, waiting in hope for his
     coming again.  Grant that in praise and thanksgiving, we may offer
     ourselves to you and that our lives may proclaim the mystery of faith
P    Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
L    Send, O God, your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts that all
     who share in the loaf and this cup may be the body of Christ: light,
     life and love in the world.  In this hope, and as your people, we
     praise you.
P    Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ,
     in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
     all glory is yours, God most holy, now and forever.
L    We praise and adore you and lay our lives before you - in the name of
     the one who taught us to pray to you as one.  Amen


THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE ELEMENTS:  All are welcome to the Lord's Table. 
     Please come forward to the front, receive and eat the bread, move to
     your left and receive and drink from the cup, and then  return to your
     seats.


DEPARTING PRAYER
L    Let us pray:
P    Life giving God, may we who share Christ's body live his risen life; 
     we who drink his cup bring new life to others; 
     we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
L    Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us.
P    Draw us ever closer to the fulness of your kingdom; 
     and so fill us with love for one another and for the world 
     that the whole earth will come to praise your most holy name.  Amen.     
      

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Faith of Our Fathers"                          - VU 580


* 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 & THREEFOLD AMEN                                     - VU 971
Go in peace, love and care for one another in Christ's name,
- and may the God of the Cross give you strength to face your defeats,
- the God of the Empty Tomb give you trust in the face of all mysteries,
- and the God of the Outpoured Spirit give you love and the power to
glorify His Name,
both now and forevermore.


SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                                  - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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