Sunday 15 November 2020

Worshipping Together – Apart – Again!

Dear All,

Here we are again, unable to be together in church and, as we did last Spring, thanks to the technical expertise of Stilman, at least able to ‘Worship Together – Apart’ on this our church website. The service today is one I used just before lock-down on a silent retreat with a community down near Exeter. You will be amused to know that I was housed in a little self-catering ‘shed’ which had been adapted from an old henhouse and was called ‘The Perch’ – it was the first of many merry laughs God and I had together in the course of a silent week!! So thank you to the Sheldon Community for permission to use parts of their Morning Prayer for Sunday. I have of course included the readings for this Sunday and added some thoughts to ponder.

With every blessing
Keep separate, keep safe
Mary Tucker


A Service to say at home

Opening Prayer

This day Lord, may I dream your dream,

This day Lord, may I reflect your love,

This day Lord, may I do your work,

This day Lord, may I taste your peace.

Hymn – Sing something you enjoy!!

Canticle

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house

will be established as the highest of the mountains.

It will be raised above the hills

and all the nations will flock to it.

Many peoples will come and they will say,

let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that we may be taught the ways of the Lord

and may walk in the right paths.

From the mountain of the Lord shall go forth the law

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

The Lord will judge between the nations

and settle disputes for many peoples.

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation

nor ever again prepare for war.

Come, O house of Jacob

Let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Bible Readings for the Second Sunday before Advent

Zephaniah 1:7 & 12-18

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice he has consecrated those he has invited. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ 13 Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.” 14 The great day of the Lord is near — near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15 That day will be a day of wrath – a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness — 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.

17 “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.

This is the Word of the Lord

Thanks be to God

Psalm 90:1-8

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This is the Word of the Lord

Thanks be to God

Some Thoughts on the Reading

The joy of Jesus’ parables, and sometimes their challenge, is that he leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions. In almost every case when telling these stories, Jesus tells the tale to his listeners (and that includes us of course), smiles, gives us a meaningful look, (possibly eyebrows raised implying ‘Yes, you DO know what I’m saying’) and steps back, leaving us to ponder. And what he is saying to us may well vary from person to person and from time to time. Or, of course, it is perfectly possible that there is more than one message for us in his words.

There is, of course, what we might call the straightforward message. We have all been gifted with talents. In fact our English use of the word to describe our gifts, strengths and abilities comes from this parable

A talent was actually a significantly large sum of money in those days and in that place and simply knowing that begins to give us a first way into this parable.

As soon as I mention gifts many of us, in our typically British self-deprecating way, look at our feet, shake our heads and mumble, ‘Well I don’t really have any talents, and certainly not what I’d call gifts.’

It isn’t true of course. Our problem is, I fear, our tendency to compare ourselves to others. I can bellow out a hymn (when COVID restrictions allow!) but I’m never going to be on ‘X factor’! I can snap my fingers to a beat and even make some show of jigging about a bit but no one’s going to put me on ‘Strictly’! And so on and son on and more of the same. But if we refuse to accept our talents because others have more, or apparently more exciting ones, we immediately start to fall into the likeness of that sulky third servant.

I can almost hear him as he digs. ‘Huh! Why do I only get one? They’ve got far more. They’re obviously better than me. There’s no point in me trying, I’ll just keep my head down and take it easy.’

And yet what the parable is saying is that we’re all different. It’s what Paul later re-writes in several of his letters when he likens us, the Church, to a body.

We all have different strengths and functions and if we happen to be something mundane and unexciting so be it.

But it doesn’t let us off the hook as the reaction of the returning master makes plain. He is angry and disappointed. He wasn’t expecting great things. He knows his servants. He’d have been quite happy if the servant in question had just done his best, even if that ‘best’ was wading through the complexities of the banking system and getting the thousand pounds or so he’s been trusted with into an interest bearing account.

So it is with us. We have all been gifted with skills or abilities. They are many and varied, we may not even value them, but they are gifts from God and we are required, yes – required, to use them for him.

We spend a lot of time in church thanking God for his love and his willingness to forgive, and that is right and proper, and this parable takes none of that away, but it does remind us that God, like any good parent, can and will be angry if we need it. It is the anger of a Father who sees his child ignoring or squandering his talents. It is righteous anger, and it may well be directed at us.

In this pre-Advent season there is a lot of talk of judgement. That reading from Zephaniah can have left us in no doubt about that

The great day of the Lord is near,near and hastening fast;the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;

A day of wrath is that day,a day of distress and anguish,a day of ruin and devastation,a day of darkness and gloom,a day of clouds and thick darkness,

I will bring distress on mankind,

because they have sinned against the Lord.’

This isn’t the sort of reading we like. Surely as we’ve just said we believe in a loving, forgiving God, revealed in his giving, loving, forgiving Son Jesus who died to release us from our sins. Surely we are not in danger of his wrath?

But that very giving, loving, forgiving Son, Jesus is telling us the parable of the talents. He is describing God’s anger and disappointment. Suddenly we find ourselves in the shoes of the disciples who, in another place and at another time, found themselves facing just such words of apparent doom from their loving leader.

‘Well in that case who then can be saved?’ they cried, for they, like we, know that with the best will in the world our sinning continues. His answer was . . . well we’ll come to Jesus’ answer in a moment. First let’s just pop back to the gloomy, doomy prophet Zephaniah for in his words there is an interesting detail of just what it is that God is so angry about, so disappointed with, in verse 12 we find these words:-

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,and I will punish the menwho are complacent,those who say in their hearts,‘The Lord will not do good,nor will he do ill.’

and there is the clue. As we quiver and quail and wait to have all our sins revealed as the ones that cause God’s wrath what we hear is that it is complacency that is the big problem. A complacency apparently based in a belief of the weakness and irrelevance of God, a God who these people really can’t be bothered with, who

‘. . . will not do good,nor will he do ill.’

How well this fits with the parable, with the lazy servant who really couldn’t be bothered, who completely misunderstood the sort of man he was working for.

So what of us? Take heart. We DO have a loving, giving and forgiving God who knows our capacity to sin. And who, as we come to him each time in our sorrow, failure and repentance forgives and releases us from all the just wrath and judgement that should be ours. Who in fact came down as a man and took all that wrath and judgement upon his own shoulders as he hung, weighed down by our sins upon the cross.

BUT – and it’s a big but and it’s what both Zephaniah and Jesus are talking about today, if we misjudge God, if we are complacent and can’t be bothered, if we don’t take the gifts we are offered and use them and, most importantly of all, if we don’t regularly accept the gift of his death and resurrection and come to him positively in repentance confessing our wrongdoing, then nothing can be done for us. We have to ask. We have to accept.

In this life we will never be perfect, as Jesus said in reply to his disciples all those millennia ago

‘For us it IS impossible . . . ’, but as long as we are not complacent, as long as we don’t fall into the trap of resting on our laurels saying, ‘Oh, it’s OK I can do as I like, I’ll be forgiven.’ As long as we continually strive, try, do our level best, confess, repent and try again then all will be well for as Jesus continued, ‘. . . but with God ALL things are possible.’

Prayers

In this continuing time of crisis, give us the courage to give up our preoccupation with ourselves and to give time to your mission in the world.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

May the blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus bring forgiveness to your people and help us to face the cost of proclaiming salvation as we work together and apart in your damaged world.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

Give your world the courage to give up war, bitterness and hatred, and to seek peace and healing for each other.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

May the shoulders of the risen Jesus, once scourged by soldiers, bear the burden of our times.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

Give us the courage to give up quarrels, strife and jealousy in our families, neighbourhoods and communities.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

May the presence of the risen Jesus, his body once broken and now made whole, bring peace and direction as we live with one another. Give us the courage to give up our selfishness as we live for others, and to give time, care and comfort to the sick in ways that are safe for them and for us.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

May the wounded hands of Jesus bring his healing touch to all who suffer, and the light of his presence fill their hearts and homes.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer.

Give us the courage to give up our fear of death and to rejoice with those who have died in faith. May the feet of the risen Lord Jesus, once nailed to the cross, walk alongside the dying and bereaved in their agony, and walk with us and all your Church through death to the gate of glory.

Lord, meet us in the silence, give us strength and hear our prayer here and in eternity. Amen.

We pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught 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 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

Closing Prayer and blessing

May the love of God sustain us this day,

May the light of Jesus radiate our thinking and speaking,

May the power of the Spirit penetrate all our decisions,

And may all we do this day witness to your presence in our lives.

Amen

The Lord bless us and keep us,

The Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us,

The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us,

And give us peace.

The Lord bless us.

Amen