steeples in the sky

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On third Sundays our worship experience is contemplative. Below is part of the worship bulletin with the words to our Guided Meditation included.

GOSPEL TEXT: Matthew 25: 14-30

*OPENING SONG “Holy Ground”

CALL TO PRAYER Zephania 1:7
Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated his guests.

SONG “Be Still and Know” p. 15 in songbook

One: Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Many: Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
ALL: Let us forget each contemptuous word, each scornful glance that has seeped into our souls. Let us fill those spaces with compassion so we may offer soft glances and strong encouragement to others.

For those the proud have scorned
RESPONSE “Kyrie” p. 41 in songbook
For forgiveness for the times we’ve scorned others
RESPONSE “Kyrie” p. 41 in songbook
For strength to claim our belovedness
RESPONSE “Kyrie” p. 41 in songbook

EPISTLE READING 1 Thessalonians 5: 4-11
But you, beloved, are . . . all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

CHILDREN’S TIME “Encourage One Another”

SUNG PRAYER “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ” p. 39 in songbook

Prayer station 1: You’ll find paper and pens with which to write encouragement notes to someone here today. Your message may be very brief—a phrase or sentence or picture. Put their name at the top. Sign your name at the bottom if you wish. These will be delivered later in the service. If you would like to write a note to someone absent from us, those will be mailed or hand delivered later. As you write, hold this person in your heart and align your intentions for this person with God’s intentions. This is a kind of prayer.

Prayer station 2: Giving our offerings is an exercise in faith, hope, and love. Because we have love for others, we can give generously. Because we have faith and hope, we can give expecting that good will come from our generosity. Make this time of giving a prayer for the world and for our faith community, which takes encouragement from these gifts.

Prayer station 3: Receiving the sacred supper of bread and wine is another exercise in faith, hope, and love. We recall the love of Jesus, we renew our commitments to have faith like his in the More that is God, and we reorient our lives toward hope for ourselves and this world. Eat. Drink. Remember. Hope.

GOSPEL READING Matthew 25: 14-30
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 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? 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

1.Many understand this parable to mean that we should put our personal resources and skills to good use. If we don’t, our “talents” may not count for much; we might even lose them completely. Though simple, this message nevertheless offers us as individuals a chance to reflect on how we are using our resources. I hope it also can challenge us to “invest” in our congregation’s future through our collective “talents.” But in case some troubling details in the parable snagged you, let’s attend to them first and trust that the Bible can withstand our scrutiny and questions.

Let’s begin by admitting that the master seems to have treated the poorest of the three servants or stewards too harshly. Since tradition presumes the master in the story represents God, the parable could suggest God is merciless. Why do the folks who start off with all the advantages receive even more? Why was the poor servant punished (sent to the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”) when he simply played it safe with his master’s money? After all, hiding treasure in the ground was a typical way to safeguard valuables in those days.

We might be able to defend the master’s treatment of slave #3 if we remember Jesus was not giving financial investment advice to the peasant folk who followed him. Jesus was talking about how people should invest their lives. Jesus, who told his followers they had to give up everything to follow him, was recommending a radical and risky way of living.

MEDITATION ON THE VALUE OF RISK: A Facebook meme reads: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Call to mind a recent risk you took with your life. Did you befriend someone very different from you? Did you try a new activity that might offer you a healthy way to deal with stress? Visit a counselor to talk about a relationship problem? Quit a job that was killing you?

Give thanks for taking a risk—whether it has paid off or not. Each of you took a huge risk to visit Open Table for the first time, to come back and invest your life with this unconventional new church. I thank God for the risks you continue to take—with leadership responsibilities and by inviting others and by trusting your heart to one another and contributing your time and financial resources in faith that good will be done. Pray now for a new way you can take another act of daring with and for and through Open Table. What might that be?

2.We might also read the parable with the possibility that the servant misperceives the master as being harsh and unfair. “You’ve assumed I was harsh, and you made your choices based on that assumption,” the master says, essentially, in verse 26. “Alright then,” says the master, “you will live your life with those expectations.” If we perceive God in certain ways, we will reap the consequences of that perception. The ultimate reality of God is never fully known to any of us. It is our own perception of God that shapes our actions. That’s why the theme for my Lenten sermons this year invited us to give up the God of __ for Lent—and we considered certain perceptions of God might need to be relinquished. In today’s parable the master says: “You’ve made me out to be a harsh master” to slave #3. “Okay,” he continues. “That is how you will perceive your reality, I’m afraid.” If we think God is violent, for instance, we will respond to our world as a people created and governed by Violence. That verse alone warns us against fashioning for ourselves a God who is cruel or indifferent, for that will be the God we will serve.

MEDITATION ON THE WAY WE IMAGE GOD: If you have to visualize God, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Draw that image on the back of your bulletin. Or make a collage of words about your image of God. Even if you believe God is not an embodied being or has any physical visible substance, create something that symbolizes your understanding about God. SHARE

3. A third way to account for the cruelty of the master is to call into question who or what the master represents. Though we’ve traditionally presumed him to be God, he may actually represent the leaders of earthly economic systems.* Rather than describing the idealized Kingdom of Heaven, this parable may instead be critiquing the injustice of the kingdoms of this world, where the rich get richer and the poor–like the servant with only one talent–eventually lose everything. Some scholarship supports this upside down view of a parable we’ve used to validate our passion for achievement and accumulation. Perhaps this Jesus story may have, very early in its transmission, become co-opted by a system that favors the favored and ends up taking away everything from those who have little. Listen to verse 29 again as if it is a summation of the way this world’s economy works rather than a proclamation about God’s economy and divine will: “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.”

PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE WORLD’S KINGDOM: We hold in our hearts those who have started life with little power or wealth and whose exploitation has benefited the rich and powerful.


Whether you believe the master is just or unjust in this system of rewards, the essence of the story teaches us to assess how we use our “talents.” Those who follow Jesus are responsible for using their “talents” well, regularly discerning if their money and time and skills and education are being used for ushering in God’s realm of shalom.

*This interpretation is from David Ewart, who says this: “The parable of the talents then is not intended to be an introductory lesson how the Kingdom of Heaven is like modern Western capitalism—extolling using wealth to make even more wealth. As my friend George Hermanson puts it in his sermon, A Kingdom of Surprises, the servant who buries the talents acts as a whistle-blower. He takes a very public action that draws attention to the injustice that has come to be taken as ‘business as usual.’ Burying the talents is a classic piece of non-violent resistance: the servant does nothing to harm anyone, but he makes a public act of refusing to participate in the unjust system of acquiring wealth for the few by impoverishing the many.The master’s wrath is the response of an elite who has been publicly shamed by one of lower status.It is highly ironical – to say the least – that the master’s words to the servant have been taken by the church to be Jesus’ words, and have been used to continue to support the very practices that the parable condemns.I believe this is NOT a “Kingdom” parable; it is a “Wisdom” parable teaching us about the perils and difficulties of the ways of the world until the Kingdom comes. It warns us to continue to expect the rich to steal from the poor; and for the followers of Jesus to expect to be punished by the rich for behaving honourably. (So much for all the stewardship sermons I have preached using this text!).”

Category Contemplation
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