Material for Worship on 24th Sunday after Pentecost

We prepare for worship today by reading or singing the ancient Irish hymn, ‘Be thou my Vision’ as David Sawyer plays ‘Slane’.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee, Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
be thou mine inheritance, now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys after vict’ry is won;
great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.

Revd. Moira Jamieson writes:

This week the people of America voted to elect their President for the next four years and some of our friends who live in the U.S. were really putting their faith and their trust in a change of power to bring about healing for their country.

Our first reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 5.1-11, read here by Anthony Birch. In it the people are entreated by Paul to trust in their knowledge of their own destiny. They are to stay alert and awake, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of salvation, encouraging each other and building each other up in faith. The parable in the gospel reading from Matthew, 25.14-30, read by Pippa Faunce Smith, presents two very different ways of responding to the call of God. The master shows a complete trust in all three servants as he entrusts them with his hard-earned savings. Not only that, but he trusts them to take care of his property while he is away on a long journey, but how does his faith in them play out? The trust of the master brings about a trusting response from the first two servants in almost identical ways, they invest what they have been given and they double its value. When the master returns, his response to these first two servants is again identical but the word-for-word equality of the verses we hear is important, because it shows the master’s total disinterest in the actual amounts each of them produces and the reward for each faithful servant is the same. They are commended for being faithful and trustworthy. Then the parable takes a threatening turn. When the man learns that the third servant has hidden his money, he calls him out. “You wicked and lazy servant!” He confiscates the money and passes it along to the richest of the three servants. Adding insult to injury, he calls for the third servant to be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and Jesus says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Picture: The Three Servants by Kasakhstan artist Nelly Bube

No matter how many times I read this verse, from our gospel passage this morning, I find it hard to swallow! It’s a hard saying which seems unjust and in parts even seems to contradict itself, after all, how can nothing be diminished? However, we all know that at times, the teaching of Jesus is a strong statement of reality. This story is another which is intended to shock the hearers into knowing something more about the different values of the kingdom, but it is also true for life in this world. Jesus is once again turning our values upside-down to teach us a lesson. This passage is often used as part of stewardship campaigns in some churches, however, it’s not a lesson in investment policy, although stewardship of money may be a part of our duty to God. It’s more about having faith in what we can do when we are asked to go that extra mile. The foolish servant knew that his master would have high demands, but he didn’t know that playing it safe would not be enough.

If you watch any of the multitudes of cooking and baking competitions on television, you will know that “playing it safe” is not a good strategy if you want to win! This parable shows the element of risk that comes with the call to each one of us from God. When he calls to us, God always asks us to step out of our comfort zone, and act out of faith, not fear. Something that Nerys and I both know very well from our discernment up to our ordination and beyond.

It’s what God expected of Noah when he told him to build an ark and collect animals. It’s what God expected of Abraham when he told him to leave his home. It’s what God expected of Moses at the burning bush, and it’s what God expected of Mary when he sent the Angel Gabriel. Faith!

I wonder what would have happened if any one of these people had acted out their fears rather than their faith! If they had thought “what will happen?” “Will we be safe?” “Will we have enough money?” “Will people still like me?” and “How can I accomplish this?” then did nothing? Instead of faith, the Bible would be a very different book. Now we can see that the difference between the two servants who invested what their master gave them, and the slave who dug a hole and buried what the master gave him – was a willingness to have faith, instead of succumbing to fear.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he encourages his readers to “put on the breastplate of faith and love.” Paul knows what it means to have faith and to have that faith tested. He also tells his readers (and us) that we should encourage and build each other up in the faith. We are called to be people of faith, not people of fear for so many reasons. The third servant in our parable was afraid of what would happen if he gambled what his master had given to him and he lost it. We all do stupid, ridiculous things when we’re afraid. But, even more, we lose sight that even through all the risks of failure, and all the failures themselves, God is still always with us. We don’t go through failure alone, and, on the other side, God turns our failures into things we couldn’t even imagine.

Trustworthiness is fine. It’s good and we like that, but really, it’s all about faith, and faith is what God expects of us all.

Let’s read or sing the challenging hymn from the Iona Community, ‘Jesus Christ is waiting’ as David plays the tune.

Jesus Christ is waiting,
waiting in the streets;
no one is his neighbour,
all alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
make me, friend or stranger,
fit to wait on you

Jesus Christ is raging,
raging in the streets,
where injustice spirals
and real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
in the Kingdom’s causes
let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
healing in the streets;
curing those who suffer,
touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
let my care be active,
healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
dancing in the streets,
where each sign of hatred
he, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
where good conquers evil
let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
calling in the streets,
‘Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.’
Listen, Lord Jesus,
let my fears be few:
Walk one step before me,
I will follow you.

John L. Bell and Graham Maule

Let us pray
Heavenly Father, clothe us with the armour of faith as we trust in you for our every need. Help us to be good stewards of your wonderful creation, always mindful of the impact our lifestyle choices make on the lives of others. As we seek to serve you in our communities, strengthen our faith and give us ears to hear your call to us. Whatever you have given us to do in this world, enable us to do it with firm resolve and joyful obedience, so that our lives and the lives our others are enriched by it.

Lord, we are aware of the suffering that is going on in our world just now. The lives of many people are on hold until a safe vaccine is found to protect us from the Coronavirus. We pray for those who are struggling with mental health issues, those who are fearful for loved ones in hospital and those whose routine hospital appointments are being cancelled and treatments delayed. Give us strength and courage Lord as we face new challenges each day and help us to put our trust in you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In a world where there is much inequality, help us to count our blessings as we hear of others who are struggling to feed their families and to be generous with what we can do and what we can give to help others. We thank you for food banks and for local charities who are reaching out to families in need, but we pray that world-leaders and those in our own governments would do more to promote equality in all areas of life to help eradicate poverty and homelessness. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, bless and protect all who are working in healthcare in hospitals and in the community and all essential workers who are in contact with the public each day. Help us to obey the guidelines we are given so that we might help to protect others. We thank you for our times of good health and bring before you now those who are ill at this time either at home or in hospital. (Pray for those for whom you have concerns). Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you for the church and for our faith during the times of restrictions. Bless our Primus Mark, our Bishop Ian and Nerys, Peter and Jeanette and all who enable our Sunday services to be shared by all. Lord, bless your church throughout the world and protect those who are persecuted for their faith. May we all seek to spread the Good News of your Kingdom with those we meet. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Finally Lord, we pray for ourselves and our families. May we always trust in you as we travel along on our journey of faith together. Bless us this week and keep us safe. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.