Ordinary Sunday 32 (08-11-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on November 8th at 10am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while public worship is not available in the church buildings   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

“Tomorrow is a satire on today, and shows its weaknesses.”       (Edward Young)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

As we gather in all our diversity, let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

HYMN 246 – “Christ is the World’s Light” (Click here to listen)   

OPENING SENTENCES

L: As the sea gathers its waters for the next waves on the shore:

R: So God’s people gather for loving.

L: As the notes of harmony congregate for the sound of music:

R: So God’s people cluster in community.

L: As the wind sweeps the air into great clouds of beauty:

R: So God’s people wonder at creation.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Steadfast God, you visit us in our aloneness, but we express you best in our togetherness. May our time together express that quality of fellowship, which is a true expression of your presentness. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation   “The Life of All” by Miriam  Winter    (Based on Ps. 104)

God of power, God of people, You are the life of all that lives, energy that fills the earth, vitality that brings to birth, the impetus toward making whole whatever is bruised or broken. In you we grow to know the truth that sets all creation free. You are the song the whole earth sings, the promise liberation brings, now and forever.

     Silence

We come to this silent time to seek strength and courage for this, and the coming days. So let this time of silence gently enfold us. (Pause) Here may the world’s tumultuous demands fall away. Here may troubled heart finds rest. (Pause) And here once more, may we commit ourselves to the building of a nobler life, for all humankind.       (30 seconds silence)

PRAYER OF CONFESSION 

L: God of Israel and God of Jesus Christ, we would not be here if you had not chosen to touch our lives with your love. We cannot hide our wonder that you should choose to enter our world and our lives in person though Jesus. Yet we confess that we sometimes have trouble in our decision-making when faced with questions of whether we wholeheartedly serve you or not. We are often tempted to put other than you first in our lives when we are faced, often daily, with choices which affect how we live as your faithful people; choices about how we share the gifts you have given us. Forgive us when the choices we make diminish our awareness of you, O God, in the midst of those who suffer.

R: Forgive us when the choices we make reflect not your glory, but our own selfishness.

L: Forgive us when the choices we make revolve around judging or condemning others without first listening to their stories.

R: Forgive us when the choices we make contribute to our own prosperity and wellbeing while ignoring the needs of others.

L: Gracious and loving God, strengthen us where we are weak with the renewing power of your Spirit so that the choices we make clearly reveal our identity as your faithful people, and as sincere and devoted followers of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen .

THE ASSURANCE   (based on John 3:16)

L: Out of love for the world, God chose to share our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  The good news therefore is this: In Jesus Christ we are accepted, we are loved, we are forgiven, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.

14 “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

16 So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.”

21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord!”

22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.”

And they said, “We are witnesses!”

23 “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.”

24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!”

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 25:1-13

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

HYMN 266 –  “Sleepers Awake” (Click here to listen)    

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “The Choice is Always Ours”

     Part 1

The Rev. Jim McClellan was once chaplain at an exclusive boys school.  At one chapel service he began his message on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins with this rhetorical question: “Young men,  I ask you, where would you rather be?  Here in the light, at the feast for the bridegroom or there, out in the dark with a group of foolish girls?”  

With one voice the young men shouted, “Out there in the dark with the young girls, Sir!”  

“End of sermon,” said the chaplain.

There are probably a number of questions with which I could start my sermon that would elicit a similar choice from you: to be with the ‘foolish virgins out there in the dark.’ I won’t do it here, but if you don’t think I can get that response from you, you are welcome to try me later.  For now, I want to address the point of the parable, because it is not an easy one.

What shall we do with a parable that seems to speak about God closing the door? In the language of the Gospels, the symbol of the wedding banquet represents the joy of being in Kingdom of God, and we have a wealth of teachings from Jesus on the subject. You will recall another parable about a wedding feast, in which the king sends out invitations to his son’s wedding feast only to have the invitations refused. Not to be deterred, he invites whomever is standing on the street corners, and has a huge party anyway.  And how about the party thrown by the father for the prodigal son in which everyone was invited?  

Once again in today’s parable, everyone is invited to the banquet, presumably by the same host who, in other parables, wanted everyone to come, so why does anyone get shut out? All the bridesmaids do show up; they all do bring their lamps; they all are ready, but half of them end up locked out. 

I don’t like this story very much.  It begins with the same gracious invitation extended in the other parables to the feast of the Kingdom, yet it ends with those haunting, final – so very final words – “and the door was shut” (v.10).

You may remember the story of the vineyard workers, some who started early in the morning, some who started at noon, and some who didn’t start until the end of the day, yet all got the same wages.  It didn’t matter if they didn’t get there until the midnight hour; all reaped the same reward.  The other parables of the Kingdom seem to say that it is never too late.  There is still room for you, because God is ever gracious.  So what is this talk of a closed door?  What has happened to God’s grace?  The maidens may be foolish and imprudent, but they are certainly not evil.  Yet when they get to the door, they find it locked and bolted, and they are excluded. Why??

Could the problem be their lack of watchfulness? It is true, the bridesmaids do fall asleep while they’re waiting; and Jesus admonishes us at the end of the parable to “Keep awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  But let’s be fair; all the bridesmaids fall asleep, the wise and the foolish alike, yet half of them end up enjoying the wedding anyhow.

Well it must be the oil then. We’re told the wise maidens brought extra oil, and the foolish ones didn’t. That sounds simple enough, but we’re on pretty shaky ground if we look for the easy answers, and decide that the oil represents Goodness, or Piety, or Works, or even Faith. If we do, then it starts to sound as though what’s important is the amount of oil we’re carrying around; as though we all ought to be doing extra good deeds, or praying extra hard, or living a perfect life, so that we can store up a spare flask full of midnight oil, ready to burn if the Messiah decides to pop a surprise quiz on us at the end of days.

The pattern of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospels simply doesn’t support this viewpoint. Instead, in his parables the invitations always go out to everyone, the pay is the same for those who start work early or late, and everyone is considered a faithful servant so long as they don’t bury their gifts.

So, it’s not that the foolish bridesmaids are shut out because they don’t have enough oil; after all, their lamps are trimmed and still burning when the bridegroom’s arrival is announced. They get excluded because they’re so worried their lamps might go out that they run off in search of extra oil, and wind up missing their grand entrance.  They have chosen to be off doing something else; an example of a misplaced sense of priorities.

Now one of the indisputable facts of life is that our time is finite.  Life ends, and the degree of joy that we find in our time – the extent that we party with God – has something to do with the priorities – the choices – that order the use of our time, energy and resources.

     Part 2

In one sense there is always time to accept the invitation of the gospel. How many Sundays have you heard the gospel invitation? How many times have you listened to Jesus’ parables?  How many times have you been assured that God is gracious, abounding in steadfast love and infinite in mercy?  The message is always the same: there is still time for you; you always have another chance.

Yet he one certainty in life is that there comes that time when there is no more time. Life is like that. The little beeping on the heart monitor changes to a constant tone, the up & down of the graph ‘straight-lines’, the ticking of the ticker ceases, we gasp, life flashes in an instant before our eyes and it is over.  The door is shut. Does that sound morbid?  Or is it merely true?

Biblical commentators generally believe the story of the maidens and their lamps is not a parable of Jesus; rather, a story addressed to a church that had become frustrated waiting for the return of Christ. Now that we are into the third millennium after Jesus’ death, it must be admitted that watching and waiting for his return has become long and hard, and some might say it was a fool’s errand from the beginning.

But I wonder if this parable may be even more urgently addressed to our church and to us as individuals.  Not only have we waited a good deal longer than Matthew’s church, we live in an age in which the language of decision, of crisis, seems most strange.

Years ago, in his best-selling book, Future Shock, Alvin Tofler noted that we live in a time of  “the peril of overchoice.” In almost five decades since his book was published, the ‘overchoice,’ as Tofler calls it, has mushroomed even more perilously.  We have more choices than any age before us, and this has become our problem rather than our solution.  I remember visiting my mother a few years ago, and she had just signed up for pay TV and had 120 channels to choose from (and that was just the basic, cheap version).  I took my grandson to Toy World to buy him a birthday present (he’s 9) last Saturday.  He wanted some Lego, but there was so much choice, we ended up getting nothing because he couldn’t decide what he wanted.  (I went back later and chose something for him.) And how many flavours of ice cream exist now? No wonder that we often stand there befuddled, not knowing whether to step forward or step back, unable to choose anything out of the fear that we may choose the wrong thing: paralysed by ‘overchoice.’  

The generation of people known as Generation Y, now aged between about 39 and 50, is characterised by an unwillingness to commit to a choice. You never get an RSVP out of a Gen-Y, because realising their wealth of choice, they like to keep their options open in case something better comes up, so again,  ‘overchoice’ leads to no choice.  

When Joshua addresses the tribes of Israel, urging them to “Choose this day whom you will serve,” whether it be the true God of Israel or idols, I wonder if Joshua’s words are meant for us. When we are told of the young women in Matthew’s gospel who fail to move, fail to act, fail to prepare themselves for the bridegroom’s arrival, I wonder if the story is speaking directly to us:

“Someday I’m going to spend more time with my family…”

“When I get around to it I’m going to stop consuming so much, stop travelling and live more simply…”

“When I retire, I will have more time for spiritual things…”

And, of course, to not decide is, in fact, a decision.  The young women in the parable may not have thought they were rejecting the offer of the party when they did nothing, but they were.

As I said earlier, I don’t like this parable. It sounds so harsh, so severe, so unlike the graciousness of Jesus. Oh, those thundering, awful words: “and the door was shut…!” (pause) Or perhaps I resist this parable simply because it is true.  As I think I am just cruising along, keeping all my options open, certain options are being closed to me; passing me by.  Certain doors do not remain open forever, but Jesus’ offer of life is a constant. That’s the Good News; it is always on offer…(pause) until our time runs out.  But until then, the choice to walk through the door to life is always open to us

Every parable places a kind of burden upon us. There are some that are hard to understand, because they depict a world alien to our own.  Some parables are hard to believe; the story they tell is so outlandish and inconceivable that we just don’t buy them.  Other parables, such as the one we heard today, place a different kind of burden upon us. It is not that we don’t understand, for we understand all too well.  I don’t like this parable about the foolish girls who were locked out of the banquet when the door was shut.  I don’t like it, not because I don’t understand it or because I can’t believe that something like this could happen.  I don’t like it because it’s true.   How is it for you?

HYMN 503  – “Robe Yourself, My Soul, in Gladness”
  (Click here to listen)
  

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Holy Friend, we know you love each one of us, teach us how much you also love every other sinner on this planet; not just the believers but also the unbelievers, not just good folk but also the very bad. We pray for them and for ourselves. Receive our prayers for the many kindly people we meet each week: At work and in the street, at sport and at the theatre, in service organisations, committees, and agencies that fight for the rights of the needy and exploited.

Receive our prayers for the many awkward people we meet: The painfully shy, the prickly characters, those who are always complaining, the quick tempered and those who don’t seem to be aware when their words and actions hurt others.

Receive our prayers for the people we thoroughly dislike: The manipulators who try to use us, the loud-mouthed whose language disgusts us, the greedy who are out to cheat us, the strong who try to bully us, the cruel whose deeds horrify us, and the “low-life” whose life-style revolts us.

Receive our prayers for the people who are easy to like and love: The generous ones, the folk who keep their good humour when under pressure, those who volunteer for the difficult tasks, those who bear no grudges and all who maintain integrity when others are being devious.

Receive our prayers for those who dislike us: One-time friends who turn against us, folk at work who make things unpleasant, relatives who try to put us down, neighbours who make a nuisance of themselves, and those types who go out of their way to ridicule Christians. 

Receive our prayers for all who are miserable today: Any who suffer from depression or acute anxiety, any who have just received bad news about their health, people who have been spurned by a loved one, the many who are hungry or homeless, those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, the drug addicts who can’t break free, the dying and the grieving who have no one to comfort them.

Holy Friend, please may the hands of Christ be upon of all these people, and on the millions whose misery is far beyond our knowledge. Lead this world away from all that is maimed and maiming, from all that is degraded and degrading. Hasten the day when we shall walk in the promised land where Christ’s love and joy is everywhere.  Meanwhile we pray as he taught us, “Our Father…

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 619 – “Have Faith in God, my Heart” (Click here to listen)  

WORD OF MISSION

L: You are wayfarers, following roads to the end of the earth, pilgrims on your way to the end of the age.

R: We are travellers on the road to freedom, a community of grace, with good news for all we meet.

L: Travel lightly, travel together, learn as you go: you are disciples, the mission is urgent, the journey is long. When the way is uncertain, shadows are sinister and dangers threaten,

R: we will not be afraid, for we are in God and God is in us.

BENEDICTION

Now may the love of truth guide you, the warmth of love hold you, and the spirit of peace bless you, this day and in the days to come. Amen.

An open, virtual door to the world