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The Responsibility Of Belief

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Invitation to the Celebration

     We come to worship in Christ's church, to celebrate, to declare, to affirm whose we are, who we are, what we do, where we go in the Name of the crucified, risen Lord. Welcome.

P: We continue to celebrate.

M: What? Ourselves? Others? Things? Objects? Success? Money?

P: No! We celebrate the Word made flesh.

M: Is that Word here today?  If so, where?  Can we see him?  Hear him?  Speak about him?  How can worship help us find him?

P: He is real.  His presence is here!

M: Then we seek him in prayer, in the word, in our response, in our commitment, in our mission.

P: Come, Lord Jesus, we believe; help our unbelief!

* OPENING HYMN                                 Thy Word                      # 178

* INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER    Bless our church that we may, as the Body of our Lord, bring blessings to each other, and to those whom we meet, that your will may be carried out through 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 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.  AMEN.

SCRIPTURE READING                          Exodus 1:8-2:108 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live." :17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?" 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live." 2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. 5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" 8 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."READER

OFFERING                    Stewardship Challenge

     Consider the stewardship of our words.  Our declaration of faith makes a difference, just as our daily speaking does.  We have this idea that popular usage of words makes for correctness,  as for example, "Winston tastes good, like ..." Or, "who do you trust?" used by politicians, and others who ought to know better.  If it is wrong, it cannot be right, even though we all talk that way.



CHILDREN'S STORY TIME         Focus on Peter. Sometimes he was "hot" and sometimes "cold"  in his faith. Give some examples of Peter. Invite the children to give some examples from their lives when they made a decision and stuck by it, even when others made fun of them.


PRAYER           FAcing Up to Ourselves              Introduction to Our Brokenness

     Where is your favorite hiding place from God? (Silence for one minute.) Anyone care to respond?  For laypeople, it may be serving as a church officer, or a member of a committee, which does church business  without seriously involving God in the decisions.  It may be in becoming a "pillar of the church." (Again, one minute of silence.) Then offer this poem, written by Fran De Nardo, Grade 6: "I have a hiding place; it can be in a closet. Sometimes it is in the attic. Other times it is in the basement.  But my favorite hiding place is in MYSELF."

Invitation to Our Acceptance

     Only God knows the extent of our dishonesty, our fear in proclaiming our declaration about who Christ is to us, our lack of obedience; for God alone has paid the supreme price for such knowledge. (Two minutes of silence.) Then say, "Nothing is so whole as a broken heart" (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav). Conclude with this, or a similar prayer: O God, because we can hide nothing, including ourself, especially ourself, from you, we have confessed our cowardice and lack of obedience.  We rejoice that you have forgiven us, even when we "feel" unforgiven and guilty.  Remove from us the guilt which destroys our relationship with you and others, and the fear which betrays our trust in you and others.  In the strong name of the Christ.

Lord, so often when You have acted to free Your children in bondage we have actually resisted Your guidance and even plotted against those who would proclaim Your message of freedom. Forgive us, Lord, and when we find others enslaved, help us work for their freedom, or when we find others in need, teach us to reach out a helping hand.  O God, You have empowered us to share Christ in so many ways: in our words, in our actions, and in the way we reach out and care for others. Lord, touch our hearts with Your love.  so often we have strayed away from Your Gospel. Too often our lives have not shared Your mercy and Your Grace. Forgive us, Lord, and help us proclaim the Gospel to the world. You are the Christ, sent by the living God; You died on the Cross and were raised from the dead; and You sent the Holy Spirit who

lives in us. We praise You, Lord.

* PREPARATIONAL HYMN                    Holy, Holy, Holy             # 2

SCRIPTURE TEXT                     Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

SERMON                                              The Responsibility Of Belief

     The time was the reconstruction period following the great American Civil War.  The place was a small southern town.  To  that setting John Sommersby returned home, at least it seemed to be him.  Everyone thought that Sommersby had died in the great war between the Union and the Confederacy; all the other soldiers had returned home quite some time ago.  He appeared to be different, but then people said that such a war changed a person in more than mind and spirit.  He recognized his friends, however, and they recognized him; the whole town celebrated.       Still, despite the celebration there was some doubt as to who this man was who had returned.  The family dog did not recognize him, and pets never forget the scent of their masters.  When Sommersby went to have a new pair of shoes made for himself, the cobbler noticed that the pattern of his foot, made before the war, no longer fit.  It would be Mrs. Sommersby, however, who would be the critical judge.  Was this rather gentle and kind man the same person who had gone to war six years earlier, a man who had many times been harsh and cruel to her?       The town to which Sommersby returned had been devastated by the war and the Union Army's plunder of the region.  Economic ruin was a real possibility.  A leader was necessary, one who could come forward, take charge, and bring the town to greatness once again.  That person would be John Sommersby.        Sommersby had a plan to grow tobacco, an economically profitable commodity, but capital was necessary for the initial investment of buying the precious and expensive tobacco seed.  Confederate money was no longer good, thus the people brought what valuables the Yankees had not taken -- rings, bracelets, a silver tea service -- and offered that they be sold.  The people placed their trust in John Sommersby and were ready to take the responsibility that such trust would entail.  Sommersby gathered the valuables and went to buy the seed.  Although it took longer than expected, //he returned with his precious cargo.  The people planted the tobacco seed and nurtured it with great care to maturity.  The yield was great and the price per unit of measure was even greater than Sommersby himself thought possible.  The  town and its people would survive.

     John Sommersby would not be able to taste the sweetness of victory.  Accused of wrongdoing during the war, he was tried and convicted.  His punishment was to be hanged until dead.  But was this man John Sommersby or someone who looked a great deal like him?  The world would never know.  The people in Sommersby's town had placed their trust in him, taken responsibility, and tasted victory.  John Sommersby, or whoever this man was, would in turn be loyal to the end to those who trusted in him.        "Who do you say that I am?"  The motion picture Sommersby provides a romantic response to this central question of today's Gospel passage.  A pragmatic answer, however, is found in this scripture.  Jesus poses the initial question, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  The response comes from the disciples,  "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  The disciples answered Jesus’ question with the common view—that Jesus was one of the great prophets come back to life.  This belief may have stemmed from Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said he would raise up a prophet from among the people.  (John the Baptist’s Profile is in John 1; Elijah’s Profile is in 1 Kings 17; and Jeremiah’s Profile is in Jeremiah 1.)  Jesus is not satisfied with this response and thus he probes deeper.  "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:13b, 15a).  Peter steps forward to answer.  Peter confessed Jesus as divine and as the promised and long-awaited Messiah. // If Jesus were to ask you this question, how would you answer?  Is he your Lord and Messiah?/////  Jesus does confront us all.  Implicit in that confrontation is that same question.  Do I believe that he is the Messiah -- the Christ?  The answer must be something more than a verbal reply.  If I believe it, something will have changed in me as compared to the person that I was.  Even if we have been raised to believe in Christ there comes a time when intellectual belief must be replaced by heartfelt conviction.  Jesus told his disciples that if they truly believe they would be called upon to deny themselves..  That is impoicit in hwat he has said to Peter.  There’s a price to faith, but it’s one we gladly pay once faith is ours.

 Peter is the one whom the Synoptic Gospels many times portray as the apostle who never quite gets it, who does not fully understand.  Peter is the one who will later deny the Lord three times on the night before he died.  But this is Peter's hour of glory, for he says, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (16:16).

     Jesus is pleased with Peter's response.  Peter will be the rock upon which the Church will be built.  He will be given a privileged position.  But with the position comes responsibility.  Peter will be given the keys of the Kingdom.  For Peter and for all those who have followed him in professing Jesus as Lord, the responsibility of pasturing the sheep, the people of God, is great. // It is a responsibility which can never be taken lightly; // we can never shirk our duty to be present to God's people.       Jesus' question hits us, as they say, "right between the eyes":  "Who do you say that I am?" /// If Jesus was not important, if his message had no relevance for us, then we would have no responsibility; but we would have no privileges either.  If the mystical body, the community of faith which is the Church, had no significance for us, then again we would have no responsibility to one another or to God.  But the fact is that there is not one person who bears the name Christian in this category, for whether it was many years ago or just yesterday we have all declared that Jesus is Lord.  Our profession of faith requires us to be responsible people.  The people in John Sommersby's town placed their trust in him and took their responsibility.  Peter professed faith in Jesus and led the Church through those very difficult early years after the Lord's ascension.  What about all of us?

     Young people, what is your responsibility if you profess Jesus as Lord?  Youth need to bring Jesus to the situation in which they find themselves.  Bring Christ to the classroom; bring him to the athletic field.  Bring Christ to your relationships with family and friends.  Refuse to give in to the ideas of society which promote violence and other forms of behavior that lead away from Christ.  Do your best to promote the message of Jesus -- one of peace, justice, and compassion.   ///     Working people and parents, what is your responsibility?  They say that the workplace is a jungle, and it probably is.  The jungle promotes an un-Christian work ethic.  Refuse to give in to such pressure, but rather find alternate ways of doing the job, methods that are in line with the teachings of Jesus.  ///Moms and Dads -- you have the most difficult task in the world.  Do not take the responsibility of being Christian parents lightly.  Be parents as Christ would have you be.  Jesus gathered the children around him; he asked us to have the attitude of children.   ///    People whose children are grown, those who are retired --  what is your responsibility?  Possibly the greatest contribution you can make is to use wisely the extra time that you might have.  Retired people can use their time, expertise, and resources for the betterment of all, as a means of exercising their Christian responsibility.              For everyone the church should look like Christ. If the church is Christ's body, it ought to resemble him in its compassion, its love and sympathy, its holiness.  Our bodies are God's temples. We ought to care for them. To neglect them does not serve the kingdom. The church is also a body.  It is built up in similar ways.  In it we must have good food:  the Word of God our milk and meat.  We must have exercise.  We build up the physical body for the fuller life good health can bring.  The body of the church is to be kept healthy and strong, not for its own sake, but for the service it can render in the world.

     Jesus' question continues to stand before us, "Who do you say that I am?"  We have been baptized in the waters of salvation and have feasted at the Table of the Lord.  In other words, we have all professed that Jesus is Lord.  That profession of faith gives us the privilege of being children of God; it also asks something of us.  Let us never be sidetracked from this most important of all responsibilities.  Let us also remember that we do not walk the Christian road alone.  We have the one person we need, for as Jesus says at the end of Saint Matthew's Gospel, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always until the end of the world!" (28:19-20).

O God, in Your infinite wisdom, You call each of us to bring our gifts into Your church so the work of Your Kingdom might be done. We give You our praise and our service, Lord. In Christ we pray. Amen.

* INVITATIONAL HYMN              I Have Decided to Follow Jesus               #427

* BENEDICTION                                         "How do we declare the name of Christ, in order to share the power of Christ, without becoming self-righteous and pompous?  Take a cue from this:  Our task is to show that Christ is not our possession, but that all of us, in every corner of the earth, and beyond, are his.  We claim no finality or monopoly of truth for our version of a faith that came to us from the Middle East; but we claim that when anyone has met with the living Christ, there is no other Lord with whom his worship and ministry can be shared"

Live and speak as if Christ meant everything to us,  everything!


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