Ordinary Sunday 33 (15-11-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on November 15th 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-

“Alas for those who never sing, but die with all their music in them.” (Oliver Wendall Holmes)

 

CALL TO WORSHIP

The eastern sky announces to all, a new day has dawned; so on this new day, let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

HYMN 666  – “We Are Marching in the Light God”
(Click here to listen)
 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: In bright sunlight, warm air, and balmy evenings, seasons of colour and courage.

R:God is in our midst.

L: In hills outlined against the rising sun, and the muted sounds of early morning walkers along the ridge.

R:God is in our midst.

L: In the faces of families, and those alone, the hurrying and the day dreaming.

R:God is in our midst.

L: In life touching other life, moments of kindness, sharing of joys, caring for others.

R:God is in our midst.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Spirit of Life, bless us through this day and through this life, till this day ends, and a new day dawns. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  “Problem and Promise” by J. Donald Johnston. 

Life must be shared. The demand comes from deep inside us.
Our bodies demand it, our minds require it, our hearts are starved without it.
Yet each one lives alone. This, too, is deeply rooted in our minds and hearts.
We depend upon one another yet are afraid of one another.
We are independent of one another yet cannot do without one another.
We can be jealous of our independence and yet sell it cheaply.
We can be so dependent that the price of independence seems beyond us.
We are problems to one another and within ourselves.
But between us and within us there is also promise.

     Silence

Now let silence gently enfold us.
(30 seconds silence)
In this day made fresh, in the chorus of birds, in the scent of wild flowers, we embrace this day in hope.  

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: My friends, it is impossible for us to objectively assess our own moral and spiritual success or failure. What we can do is to willingly place ourselves under the judgement and mercy of God, who knows us as we are without any doubt or mistake. Let us pray. Merciful God please investigate us in our role as a family members and as those who have a circle of friends. Sift our thoughts and our behaviour,

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Merciful God, please investigate us as those who work alongside others, some of us directing their tasks and some being directed by them. Sift our thoughts and our behaviour:

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Merciful God, please investigate us in the way we use our spare time, spend our money, and use the special talents we have been given: Sift our thoughts and our behaviour:

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Merciful God, please investigate us as members of the community, with our political preferences and our social responsibilities: Sift our thoughts and our behaviour:

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Merciful God, please investigate us as members of the church of Christ Jesus, in the way we deal with one another and the hopes we have for our congregation: Sift our thoughts and our behaviour: 

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Merciful God, please investigate us as members of the world family, the degree of our concern for all who endure poverty, oppression, war, or homelessness: Sift our thoughts and our behaviour:

R: Eradicate the sinful and insensitive things and bless the all that is good and healthy.

L: Most loving and determined Friend, by the grace of Christ Jesus please forgive us our sins and restore our peace and joy in your salvation. Enable us to repair damage where that is possible, and to leave the seemingly irreparable to your formidable providence which can make all things new. For your love’s sake. Amen!

A WORD OF ASSURANCE

L: It is written: “Where sin abounds grace much more abounds.” In that abounding grace we are a forgiven church! So I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS    Matthew 25:14-30  (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

HYMN 658   – “Here I Am, Lord” (Click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS 

“Timidity or Temerity? Staying alive or living?”

     Part 1

Before we join the Master and become too critical of the third servant, let’s listen to him for a moment.  I want you to be the jury and listen to his testimony:

I am a slave.  If I knew how to invest money I would be a Master, with servants of my own.  I am uneducated and do the best I can at menial work in order that my wife and 6 kids might get by.  So what am I to do when the Master gives me a whole talent.  Do you know how much that is?  A common labourer would have to work for 15 years to earn that much money.  Total it up:  15 years wages!  In your terms; even at minimum wage we are talking about $600,000 Australian dollars.  Imagine 60,000 $10 notes in your lounge room. That’s at minimum wage!  Take your annual income and put a zero on the end; that is ten year’s worth.  Now add another 50%. That is 15 years’ income for you.  Even if you don’t earn much, it is a tidy sum, is it not?  What would it feel like to be given the responsibility to watch over that much cash for your boss, especially if he had the power of life and death over you and your family?  I didn’t have a bank to put it in, with a government guarantee,  like you have.  You might think of investing it, but where?  Every few years the stock market goes into free fall and, when property prices fall too, even the phrase, ‘safe as houses’ no longer carries much weight.

Besides, how would you get it to the bank anyway.  Under your coat?  A thief could spot you a mile away.  Maybe you would just pull the curtains and hide it under the bed.  Of course, you couldn’t sleep;  you’re up and down all night, checking the locks and listening for strange noises. Next night after a miserable day, I’ll bet you would do what I did; what any prudent man of my culture and my time typically did do: bury it.  The law in my day stated that “Whoever immediately buries property entrusted to him is no longer liable, because he has taken the safest course conceivable.” So you, too, (if you were prudent) would have put the money in garbage bags, and buried it under the kids’ sandbox and, just to be safe, you would have planted a fast growing bush over it.  You would have then fixed all the holes in the fence, put a new lock on the back gate and maybe installed a security system or a least a couple of sensor lights.  You would give up going on holidays, and your neighbours would have noticed that you were spending a lot more time in your garden.

And let me tell you a secret;  I’ll bet those other two servants did the same thing with their first talent.  We may not be well educated, but we’re not stupid.  We know that when you go to any financial counsellor, he will tell you to put a portion of your savings in a conservative, secure place.  Once you have an adequate portion salted away safely, then you can invest the rest in those investments with a higher return, and with a proportionally greater risk attached, but you do this only with that which you can afford to lose.  This is just common sense.  My colleagues were able to make high-return investments because they had money to burn. One of them was given two lifetimes’ worth of income, at least in terms of our life expectancy.  He could bury one lifetimes’ worth and gamble with the rest without fear.

I think the Master was way out of line.  I returned every cent he gave me. I spent none of it on myself, I lost none of it.  Furthermore, in making my colleagues rich, he seems to be affirming the way of the world in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  He said, and I quote:  “To those who have, they will receive more, and to those who have not, even the little they have will be taken away?”  I ask you, is his judgment fitting for a Christian sermon.   

     Part 2

Well, what do you think?  The third servant is accused of being wicked and evil.  You are the jury.  You’ve heard the testimony of the accused.  How find you?  Is the servant guilty or innocent of being wicked and evil.

Few of us can boast more than one talent in liquid assets, (remember it is equivalent to $600,000) so it is easy to identify with the third servant.  If so, then this parable can be troubling.  You will have heard sermons that quickly dance past the Master’s anger and ferocity, and focus on how we are to use our talents, taking what God has given and making the best use of it.  I have preached such sermons myself.  But why did the Master get so angry?  If the Master is meant to be God, where is the grace?  Where the forgiveness?  the acceptance?   This parable is a bit like that of the 10 virgins last week, in which half of them get locked out of the Kingdom.Well perhaps we should be fair, and let the Master have a word.

That lazy, good-for-nothing pipsqueak deserves everything he got, i.e nothing.  He’s lucky I didn’t sell him to a Roman soldier for target practice.  He just doesn’t get it.  I didn’t just give my servants a bit of my gambling money to play with;  I gave them everything I had – every last cent: my share portfolio, my super, the keys to the Mercedes, the deed to the house, my credit cards and the respective pin numbers.  Everything of who I am and everything of what I have, I gave to them.  I became totally and utterly dependent upon whatever they chose to do with what I gave them.   That little twit of a servant thought that he was at risk, when all the time I was the one at risk.  I entrusted my whole life to those three guys; I was utterly vulnerable to their choices.  If I could risk so much, that useless servant could have at least taken a little risk with what I gave him.  What do you think? 

The servant accused the Master of being a hard man.  Really?  Who is this Master?  Is he a hard-headed, hard-hearted, tough, exacting miser who expects to reap where he hasn’t even sown?  Or is he an extravagant, reckless, wheeler-dealer, whose faith in his servants is only exceeded by his generosity.  He gave them everything he had, so is it hard-hearted of him to expect them to be as reckless as he?  

Who is this Master?  Well, if he is the usual object of Jesus’ stories, you will recall that he had some funny ideas about agriculture.  Jesus told of the sower who went out to sow, and just threw seeds everywhere; on rocky ground and among weeds as well as in good soil.  Perhaps his is a Master who expects to harvest in the same way that he sows.

Then, says Jesus, when the seeds sprouted, weeds were mixed with the wheat.  The Master told his servants not to weed the crop, but let it all grow together.  “We’ll sort it out later.”

Not only was he a sloppy farmer, he was an outrageous shepherd.  Show me a shepherd who will lay down his life for a $9.95 plus postage sheep, and I’ll show you a very foolish shepherd…. or else a shepherd who is unbelievably  extravagant.

Who is this master?   What would it be like to be his servant?

Remember, this is the Master who can’t be angry that his younger son went out and wasted his substance, because the Master, himself, has a tendency to throw it all away on a bunch of deadbeats and shaky operators for whom the term ‘substance abuse’ can never be defined as being careless, but as being too careful.

     Part 3

In Matthew 25, just before Jesus starts down the lonely road to his death, he tells three stories, including today’s.  They are all parables of judgment, parables about the end, stories about reckoning.  And today’s story is about having the faith to risk life.  It is told, first of all, to remind you that you have a gift, and God expects you to do business with it.   The story is about a God who is sick to death with the church’s low-risk living.  William Barclay characterises this parable as one in which “Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure.”

It  is unfortunate that there is not a fourth servant in this story; one who went out and invested the money from his Master and utterly bombed.  He comes to his Master and says, “Well, boss, it’s like this: it seemed a sure thing.  Everyone down at the office said it was a sure bet.  I was as careful as possible, but things just didn’t work out and, so…well… all I have to give you is a sincere apology.” 

What would the Master say then?   You know, don’t you?  Jesus, the one who went to lunch with that slime-ball tax collector Zaccheus; Jesus, the one who said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you;”  the one who was always taking failures and lifting them up, forgiving them and setting them on a new way; you know what he would say.  Where’s the grace in this story?  Where is the good news?  It permeates this story from the very first line: “For this kingdom of heaven is as if a man going on his journey, summons his slaves and entrusted to them everything he owned.”

In other words we have been blessed with all the resources needed for a good life; for life in the kingdom of God.  This is where grace appears in the story.  If, in faith, we risk using these gifts, we gain life.  If, in our fear, we bury them, we don’t have life.  It is that simple really. It is not a matter of God’s judgment of us; it is the result – the consequence – of our choices. God gives us all we need, and the freedom to choose how, or if, we use it.  God can’t make us choose life; we have to do that ourselves  We can be so cautious – so faithless – with what we have been given that we miss out and the world misses out, and God can’t do a thing about it. And as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Alas for those who never sing, but die with all their music in them.”  But…if we dare to live in faith – i.e. if we dare to risk living – we profit beyond our wildest expectations.

HYMN 652  – “Come To Us, Creative Spirit” (Click here to listen) 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

L: In our prayers today we will especially remember those people whose lives have been warped and stunted by evil. Let us pray.

L: Wherever people grow up without the example and encouragement of loving folk who have respect for themselves and others; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Wherever people live with a bitterness of spirit which poisons and distresses all those who live around them; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L:Wherever some live greedily, without gratitude or generosity, always keeping a ruthless eye on the happiness and possession of others; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Wherever men resort to violence, rape, brutality, terrorism and warfare, spreading immense misery and accelerating hatreds; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Wherever women suffer disease, handicap, injustices, exploitation, slavery, or forced prostitution, and have no faith or hope to succour them; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Wherever communities of mixed races are torn by rumours, old resentments and new patterns of discrimination; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Wherever folk sit with the dying, make funeral arrangements, or spend sleepless nights grieving and fearing; may your saving grace abound.

R: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Holy Friend, you cherish every single soul on this planet. Please teach us, slow learners that we are, how to better live together, organise communities, end injustice, and eradicate all those evils that defile the sacred, divine image that resides in us all. Through Jesus our elder Brother, who taught us to pray, “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 599 – “Take My Life and Let It Be” (Click here to listen)  

A WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us take on this week’s life with renewed hope and imagination. May we go out from this time of celebration to live lives of hope, to be nurturers of the vision of wholeness, and to serve as healers in this wounded world.

R: With wisdom. With courage. With love.

BENEDICTION

Go boldly into the future that has been claimed by God. Know that the God who holds all things will be there, that Christ who calls us friend will walk beside us, and the Spirit who makes all things new will mark our way with light and hope.

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