First Presbyterian Church
27 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 568, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472
Order of Divine Worship
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost • Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time • Proper 22
Sunday, October 8, 2017 – 10:30 a.m.
You are the light of the world. You are the body of Christ.
Greeting: Assisting Elder: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Announcements Assisting Elder:
Preparing for the Word
Musical Call to Worship
Introit “Lord, When I Came into this Life” Hymnal 691, Verse 1
Call to Worship:
Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
The Lord has delivered us from slavery;
there is no other god but the Lord.
Time with Children
*Hymn 327 “From All That Dwell Below the Skies”
Prayers of Confession (Rom 5:8, Heb 4:16)
The proof of God’s amazing love is this: while we were sinners Christ died for us. Because we have faith in him, we dare to approach God with confidence. Let us ask God to forgive us.
Look on us, O loving God, as we confess our shortcomings and sins: how prone we are to evil, how slow to do good; how easily deceived by the values of the world, how blind to the things of our peace; how easily led astray by self-indulgence, and how slow to practice self-discipline; how glibly we blame others, and how slow we are to blame ourselves. Father, forgive us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Assurance of Grace John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that God gave the only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
*Response of Praise, No. 581
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end, Amen, Amen!
Hearing the Word
Anthem “Lord, Here Am I” Althouse
Old Testament Readings: Exodus 20:1-4,7-9, 12-20
1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
Epistle Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
4BIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:33-46
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Sermon “Commands and Covenant” Rev. David Ashby
A cartoon Moses sits wearily on a rock at the foot of the mountain as a few Israelites are gathered around the familiar two stone tablets, “Sure, I know they’re tough, but you should have seen the ones I talked him out of!”
Of course, there are hundreds of cartoons and jokes about the great, arched-top stone tablets with Torah— the Law— scribed deeply upon them by the moving finger of God. Generally, the Ten Commandments are regarded as primarily a moral do’s-and-don’ts code, a list of good and bad, or at least a minimum standard for behavior. But there is another, perhaps more helpful and more freeing way to look at the divine dicta of Exodus 20, and that is to see them as part of the great covenant Yahweh God made with Israel at the foot of Mount Horeb. The commandments seen in that context become far more than a list of prohibitions; they become a means of grace and hope and life and happiness under the covenant. There is a series of stories through the first books of the Hebrew Bible developing the concept of “covenant.” First we have the covenant of creation, the beginning of the universe by God’s all-loving, almighty creative Word. Then we had the covenant promising no more destruction which God made with Noah, when God hung the rainbow war-bow in the clouds. And today we have the stone tablets of the covenant God made with Israel under the leadership of Moses.
A covenant is a contract of sorts. When they were really important contracts, witnessed by heaven and earth or religious in nature, they were called covenants; it’s just a fancier term! In general, covenants in the ancient near east were between monarchs and vassals and such, sort of like treaties and alliances in the modern world, but more formal and more involved and more religious. There are many covenants between the rulers of the big superpowers, Babylon and Egypt, and their subsidiary states and captured nations. And there were Babylonian and Mesopotamian covenants between rulers and their deities: I will be the king, and you will be my God. But the greatest practitioners of covenants were the Israelites, apparently because Yahweh, their God, was particularly fond of agreements with the people Yahweh chose. Rather than just declaring that “I am Baal, God of thunderstorms, obey me!” as other local gods did, Yahweh preferred to make two-way agreements, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And, in return for God’s favor, protection, care, and glory, the people of Israel had their side of the bargain to uphold, to be faithful to the covenant and to follow the rules! And, among the various rules, among all the complex legal codes of Torah, Yahweh highlighted the essentials. The legend is that God wrote them on stone tablets and gave them to Moses on the mountain top, wrote them eternal and unchangeable. It’s the origin of our phrase, “written in stone!” If you could keep those ten big points in mind, you shouldn’t worry about transgressing the five hundred and some-odd statutes and ordinances. In fact, all those pages and pages and pages in Numbers and Leviticus are simply the fine points to applying the ten fundamental commandments. And so through the thousands of years, we have memorized the Ten Commandments as children, so we know where we stand!
And so the proper context to read the commandments is within the covenant. It is the covenant faithfulness and assistance of God who wrote the commandments which with make it possible to maintain and observe the Ten Commandments. The classic way of dividing up the stone tablets is to consider One through Four as pertaining to our covenant relationship to God and Five through Ten as pertaining to our human covenant relationships with our neighbors.
To begin, we start with the radical monotheism demanded by Yahweh: no other gods! We may not worship or consult or consider or hedge our bets with any other gods. It is as true today when the false Gods are materialism or success or gold medals at the Olympics for which you would do almost anything as when the false gods were Baal and Astarte and other Canaanite deities or the emperor in Rome. The radical demand is so great that the second commandment tells us not to make any idols to worship, for God knows we will quickly confuse the statue with the reality. Ask Moses and Aaron about that golden calf! And it’s another slam against false idols by saying that they are not even real enough to make idols out of! The third commandment, often translated “do not use the Lord’s name in vain” is perhaps better rendered by the New Revised Standard Version as “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” That covers both swearing falsely by God’s name (in the sense of testifying to the truth of something), swearing with it (in the sense of using it as a curse), or even as a meaningless punctuation word in your sentence, as is too frequent in contemporary language. Probably even harder than not swearing with the Lord’s name is the fourth commandment, to maintain the Sabbath by not working or causing others to work. In this version, we must keep the sabbath because God kept sabbath, resting the seventh day. In ancient times, this was amazing stuff, for no other religion mandated a frequent break, especially weekly. Among other things, a weekly sabbath kept Israel far closer to God than did any religion which might have monthly holy days. Israel was the first to benefit from a regular, repeatable, weekly cycle of work and rest.
Our human covenants begin with the injunction to honor our parents, and by extension, our families. Then comes honoring everyone’s life, not stealing (whether by a violent hold up by a street criminal or polite white-collar fraud), not testifying falsely in legal proceedings (a foundation of the justice system), or lusting enviously over something another person has (which is likely to lead you astray into breaking the social contract through one of the other commandments!). God was pretty wise about knowing what we humans would try to do for our personal gain way back then; those are still the roots of most human evil, whether sudden blind passion or jealousy or carefully considered conspiracy. If humans can keep those basic ten things in mind, we will live much better!
Our big error, of course, is to focus on the “don’t” part of the commands. But, since these are given to us and to Moses as part of the covenant of grace, you have to look equally at the “up” side. Martin Luther thought the Law was only burdensome: it restrained sin and convicted us of wrong. But John Calvin saw a “third use of the Law,” which was for our instruction. It doesn’t only scare us from doing wrong, it helps us do right. As a good Calvinist, I tend in that direction. Not having any other gods, of course, means that we will draw closer to the true God. Keeping the sabbath means we will be refreshed and able to be more productive and happier in the other six days. Not committing adultery strengthens the marriage, strengthens the family, promotes fidelity, and in this age of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, is a lot safer! Not coveting others’ possessions decreases the chance you will do something wrong to get them and, best of all, enhances sharing.
The advantage of seeing the commandments in the context of covenant is that they stop being just a stodgy bunch of prohibitions and become much more helpful and positive. If you use the image of God as heavenly parent and we the sometimes fractious children, the Ten Commandments are a bit like the rules parents lay down on the children. When children are young, we basically chafe at the rules and directions our parent place on us, yet later we see their wisdom. “Don’t play in a snowbank right next to the road” seems just like Dad taking away a kid’s fun in the snow, until the child realizes that it is very easy for the snow to give way and deposit you right in the middle of traffic. “Don’t talk to strangers” isn’t important until you hear an Amber Alert. “Take out the trash,” is annoying, until the kid notices the smell! “Be home by ten on a school night,” is so “babyish…” until first period rolls around the next morning! The rules which seem restrictive at first are actually there to protect and help. Our children often resist the rules, only to grow into them later. So it is with God’s rules; if you don’t feel the love behind them, you can resist them, but when you understand the love and the good purpose behind the commandments, they stop being so onerous.
The church my wife Marylee and I attended and at which I did my Student-in-Ministry internship, Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Richmond VA, always used the Ten Commandments as their responsive reading each communion Sunday. I liked that way of reminding ourselves of the good rules to live by each time we approached the Lord’s Table. (It would have worked better last week with World Communion Sunday!)
Another cartoon Moses stands on the mountain top looking up into the Cloud of Glory, below which is the little bubble and three blinking dots which most of us recognize from our phone and computer messaging apps as indicating the other party is about to tell us something, and the caption says, “Moses awaits the Word of God.” While that is kind of funny, it does make the holy point that those covenant commandments are totally current and relevant to us in the modern age when God’s Holy Spirit communicates with us in so many new ways, and not just old history on stones. God’s covenant is living and breathing and making a difference. That great tag line, “God is still speaking” may have come from the United Church of Christ, but the living Word of God is still moving us. And so, with appreciation for the covenants God has made with God’s human children— with ancient Israel, through Christ Jesus with his disciples and church, and with us even today and here— let us recommit ourselves to the covenant commandments as we live into the new covenant, for both the commandments and their life-giving guidance are for our sakes. Thanks be to God!
*Hymn 307 “God of Grace and God of Glory”
Responding to the Word
Prayers for Others and for Ourselves
God of grace and God of glory, how awesome and eternal above the heavens are you. Loving and forgiving and reconciling are you, Jesus our Savior, at whose feet we pour our prayers and gratitude. Close at hand and present in every need are you, Holy Spirit. When we look to the outer reaches of the stars from space, there you are; when we look at the light dancing on a butterfly’s wings, there you are, when we look into the quietest, smallest corners of the human heart, there you are! When we ponder with our minds, hold hands with those we care about, when we feel love within, we praise you and thank you for your many gifts to us. O fount of every blessing, for all the blessings we cannot begin to number, we thank you!
We thank you for being able to lift our voices in prayer, praise, song, joy, pain, hope, faith. We thank you for the good news of the gospel, even when it seems hard or harsh, for it is always the word of life.
We raise our prayers for the world, for those whose voices are stifled by fear, fear of terror, fear of violence, fear of governments, fear of retaliation, fear of responsibility. We pray for those trapped in the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and everywhere else where violence harms your children. Of course the places high on our list of prayers are those recovering from the hurricane devastation in Texas, in Florida, in the Virgin Islands, in Puerto Rico, and less known weather disasters. We pray for those preparing for Hurricane Nate, worrying a bit about the fatigue and compassion fatigue overtaking us after so many storms. We cannot overlook prayer this week about the deaths and injuries (physical and psychic) in Las Vegas, yet another mass shooting we can scarcely get our thoughts around. We are relieved the death toll is not higher, that so many wounded have been treated, that so many at the festival got to safety, that law enforcement and medical personnel rose to the occasion, that the city came together. And yet we remember those reassembling their lives after previous mass casualties and smaller gun violence. Help us as a society to find the right ways to assure everyone’s safety. We observe Columbus Day this weekend, yet in this part of the country we remember as well the Indigenous Peoples who were in this area before European settlers and celebrate their history and culture as well.
We pray too for the ill and injured, the recuperating and the never to recover, the dying and those who keep vigil, for doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who minister to them. We pray for the impoverished, the downtrodden, the victims of injustice. We pray for all persecuted for their faith, for those who speak the good news yet are oppressed for their belief. We pray also for those of us who, although not oppressed, feel that our faith raises eyebrows of our neighbors. We pray for the church not just here but all over. Bless us in this congregation, our leaders, team and committee members, Session, Deacons, Pastor Nominating Committee, youth and children, all members, friends, and helpers. Even when the way seems steep, grant that we will be wise and brave and open and hopeful and hope-filled as we look to new missions and ministries to undertake going out from this room. Be with us individually and as families, in all the ways we need your presence and direction, and even in ways we don’t anticipate or expect. O God of Grace and Glory, we pray all these things, and much more in our innermost being, in the name and for the sake of Christ Jesus…
The Lord’s Prayer
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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Presentation of Our Gifts and Offerings
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
*Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, Maker of heaven and earth, out of your great love for the world you sent us your beloved Son— but we sent him to his death. Have mercy on us, O Lord; forgive us, renew us, restore us so that we may be the people of your vineyard and bear good fruit for your holy realm; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
*Hymn 645 “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above”
*Charge and Benediction Romans 12:9-13
Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold on to what is good; return no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the suffering; honor everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
*Choral Response “Lord, When I Came into this Life” Hymnal 691, Verse 3