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Serving or Surviving?

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1/10/99

ORGAN PRELUDE

ANNOUNCEMENTS                        Psalm 89  God is faithful to those whom he has anointed.

CALL TO WORSHIP

*OPENING HYMN                            Come Thou Almighty King                                #88

*INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER     Baptizing God,   open up your heavens.   Send your Spirit upon us.   Let us again hear your voice saying,   "These are my beloved children."  /  in Your divine love You have opened the way for all nations and peoples to accept Your mercy and grace. Help us to grow in Your love that we also might accept all peoples.  //  in Your wisdom and love You gave us a Savior to restore light and hope to our dark and bleak world.  We praise You and ask You to send us to share Your light with the nations. 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.  *GLORIA PATRI

SCRIPTURE READING                     (Mat 3:13-17 NRSV)  "Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. {14} John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" {15} But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. {16} And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. {17} And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.""

MISSION MOMENT

OFFERING                 (Eph 5:2 NLT)  "Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to him."

*DOXOLOGY

*PRAYER OF DEDICATION            Our Father, youy have given your dearest and best for us, yet Christ yielded himself up willingly to do your will and for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.  May your example show us what love can do when it is real.

CHILDREN'S STORY TIME     It was a big day. Tommy was going to the local amusement park with his family. With joy he anticipated the little boats with the bells, the happy carousel and the carnival games. But what Tommy really wanted to do was to ride the big one, the roller coaster. What a thrill! He could share it with his friends and it would prove that he was no longer a little boy. So the big day came and he rode the little boats, cars and carousel. He threw darts at the balloons and baseballs at the bowling pins and all the while, in the back of his mind was the thought: "Today I'm going to ride the big one!" Finally, they got in line for the coaster, a line that appeared to be infinite. Eventually they worked their way to the front and Tommy was ready to board his dream ride. Just as he was about to step down, the gate keeper pulled him back and over to a measuring post, explaining that he had to be a certain height; it was the regulation. You guessed it. Tommy was three inches too short. He didn't measure up. Thank God that in Christ Jesus we are acceptable to God. Amazing grace!

CHORAL ANTHEM

PRAYER         Heavenly Father, as your beloved Son was baptized by John and filled with the Spirit of favor, so too may we be filled with your gracious Spirit, that we may live out our baptismal identity, until we are drawn into your presence in your glorious kingdom. / in Christ You walked among us showing us true perfection and paying the price for our redemption on the Cross. Lord, give us the strength to carry Christ to the world.  //  Lord, so often we have failed to remember the commitment we made in our baptism to share the light You have given us with others just as You have so mercifully blessed us. Forgive us, Lord, and touch again our hearts that we might know anew Your divine love and carry it to all the world around us.  /  Lord, so often, even in some of our better moments, we have thought of Your love as being exclusive, only for those who are like us. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to celebrate that in Christ, Your love is accepting and would reach out to all people, be they great or small, rich or poor, sick or well, even to those not like us.  //  Lord, so often we struggle with feelings of being unworthy, and we fail to accept that in our baptism we join You in finding favor before God. So often we try with our good deeds to earn Your love and we fail to see the mercy and grace You proclaimed to us in the Cross. Forgive us, Lord, and help us share the Good News wherever we go. In Christ we pray. Amen.

*PREPARATIONAL HYMN             There is a Balm in Gilead                      # 141

SCRIPTURE TEXT                 (Isa 42:1-9 NRSV)  "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. {2} He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; {3} a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. {4} He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. {5} Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: {6} I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, {7} to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. {8} I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. {9} See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them."

SERMON                                Serving or Surviving?

   When people go through the crucible of suffering it often clarifies who they are and what their existence is really about. The ancient Hebrews were no exception. They had long held that they were the chosen people but had lost sight of the purpose of that election. They were more tuned in to the privilege of their position rather than their responsibilities. The prophet of second Isaiah proclaimed powerfully that the Jews were favored by God, but that their privilege rested in being the Lord's servants. This servanthood was to be exercised with great humility and gentleness. "A bruised reed he shall not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench ..."

Isaiah 42:1-4 is quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 with reference to Christ. The chosen servant reveals a character of gentleness, encouragement, justice, and truth. When you feel broken and bruised or burned out in your spiritual life, God won’t step on you or toss you aside as useless but will gently pick you up. God’s loving attributes are desperately needed in the world today. Through God’s Spirit, we can show such sensitivity to people around us, reflecting God’s goodness and honesty to them.

Isaiah 42:6, 7  Part of Christ’s mission on earth was to demonstrate God’s righteousness and to be a light for the Gentiles (to all nations). Through Christ, all people have the opportunity to share in his mission. God calls us to be servants of his Son, demonstrating God’s righteousness and bringing his light. What a rare privilege it is to help the Messiah fulfill his mission! But we must seek his righteousness (Matthew 6:33) before we demonstrate it to others and let his light shine in us before we can be lights ourselves

   The role of the servant people is evangelistic in nature. They are to bring forth righteousness to the nations, to be lights in a world of darkness, so that all people might see and know God's gracious will. In doing this, they are not to assume that God has completely withheld the light of his presence. They are to gently fan the dimly burning wick into full flame by the breath of God's Spirit. Through the gut-wrenching ordeal of captivity in a strange land, the Hebrews' horizons were lifted to a higher purpose, from survival to mission. Years ago I saw a sign in front of a downtown church: "Serving, not just surviving." It is a danger for any church to fall from a mission mindset into a survivalistic modality. As Jesus warned: "He who would save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it."

The prophet helps his people forge a new identity in the furnace of national defeat; they were to be God's servant people to shed the light of the Lord on the nations dwelling in moral and spiritual darkness. They had been compelled to be the slaves of an enemy empire. Now, they were challenged to willingly be servants of the Lord of heaven and earth, to spread the knowledge of his holy will. They were challenged to serve and not merely survive.

   Outline:   1. The Jews of Isaiah's day had lost their national identity through defeat.

   2. Christians today are losing their Christian identity to the prevailing culture.

   3. Isaiah reminded his people of God's grace and love for them and challenged them to find new purpose in serving the Lord.

   4. We too, like the Jews, are the people whom the Lord has shown favor.

   5. Let us witness to the light of God that shines through the face of Christ.

Isaiah challenges his captive people to witness to the light of the Lord to those in spiritual captivity. They would find their own freedom through engaging in the Lord's liberation ministry. We, who have been freed of sin's servitude in Christ, are empowered by the Spirit to engage in prison ministry.    1. We are all prisoners of sin (give examples of how sin binds us).

   2. The Jews of Isaiah's day were offered freedom in God's covenant of grace.

   3. God offers us freedom through faith in Christ.

   4. To remain free, we must engage in Christ's ministry of liberation.

Chuck Colson discovered not only Christ in prison, he also found his mission there. Colson's ministry recognizes that those locked behind bars were confined in a prison of another sort long before they were incarcerated -- a prison of spiritual darkness. Colson believes that no person can be spiritually free until he or she is free in Christ. The prisoner labors to free other prisoners. We see this same principle at work in this text. Isaiah addressed those who were themselves prisoners. They were commissioned to bring other prisoners -- those locked in a prison of power, wealth, and self indulgence -- out of their spiritual dungeon through their witness to the Lord. Those whom God has freed from the shackles of sin must set out to free others, by the affirming power of God's grace. We are all engaged in prison ministry.

*INVITATIONAL HYMN     He Giveth More Grace                         # 311

*BENEDICTION        When Jesus was baptized the heavens opened,        and the Spirit of God descended like a dove        and alighted on Jesus.   Almighty God, you share your Son,        you share your Spirit,        you wash us with your love and grace.   When Jesus was baptized a voice from heaven said,       "This is my Son, the Beloved,        with whom I am well pleased."          Almighty God, as Jesus pleased you well,         may our hymns and prayers gratify your ears,        may our thoughts and actions gladden your heart,        may our daily lives please you always.       Go, with God above,   Christ ahead,   and the Spirit within.  Amen.

ORGAN POSTLUDE

BRIEF COMMENTARY ON THE LESSONS

Lesson 1: Isaiah 42:1-9

   The servant people of Israel, themselves oppressed and humiliated, are declared to be God's beloved servants who will gently reveal the light of God's will to the nations. That light of God is as a smoldering lamp among the heathen but God's servant nation is empowered by the Spirit to open the eyes of the spiritually blind and liberate those who languish in spiritual captivity. While this servant of the Lord can be applied to the nation of Israel, Christians have always seen more in this passage. Jesus is the servant of God's favor, anointed with the Spirit at baptism and commissioned to bear witness to the light

of God in a world of darkness.

THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON THE LESSONS

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

   A window to heaven. This account states that when Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened. There are sacred moments when the window of eternity and opportunity open. Jesus' baptism was one such time. Through this act, Jesus was indicating his willingness to yield his life in obedience to the Father. In the moment of self-surrender, a voice from heaven confirmed the Father's favor, which was made tangible through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

   While Christ's baptism did not have the same significance as our baptism, there are points of commonality. Both baptisms are acts of obedience through which the baptized experience grace and favor. It is an affirmation that is both personal and public. Both the baptized and those who witness the baptism are made cognizant of God's favor. Baptism is a window through which we see the God of grace. The difference here between Jesus' baptism and our own is that Jesus had earned God's favor and we have not. A second point, baptism was the launching pad of our Lord's ministry and so is our baptism. We are commissioned to be God's servant people. A third similarity is that in Christ's baptism as well as our own the Holy Spirit is imparted. We are empowered to carry out our divine commission. In baptism, we are accepted, commissioned and empowered.

PREACHING APPROACHES WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

Lesson 2: Acts 10:34-43

   How Big Is Your God?          In this passage we see how God enables human beings to enlarge their concept of God. Consider Peter, his concept of Jesus is greatly enlarged. First, Jesus is merely a man, then the Jewish Messiah, then the Son of God, and finally, the Savior of the world. Consider Cornelius also, his concept of deity must have dramatically transformed from belief in the multitude of Roman gods, to acknowledging the God of Israel and finally to confessing Jesus as the Son of God. Some time ago, a book was written called Your God Is Too Small. This would be a great opportunity to address the many inadequate concepts of God that people hold today, such as, God as personal therapist or God as Santa.    Outline:   1. Ask your listeners to think about how their concept of God has grown. Explain how your own concept of God has matured.    2. Show how Peter's and Cornelius' concepts of God had transformed.    3. Discuss some of the current inadequate concepts of God.    4. End by showing how we must settle for nothing less than the loving and saving God we find in the gospel.

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